Leaders learn ways to incorporate anti-racism in worship
Eighteen pastors and worship leaders in seven denominations and from eight states have been meeting virtually since January to learn, share and nurture worship experiences on "Anti-Racism and Christian Worship."
Whitworth church music professor Ben Brody and Kalani Padilla, graduate ministry student intern, gather them in the Formational Worship Calling Community as part of Whitworth University's Office for Church Engagement, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment.
The goal is to equip church leaders to plan engaging worship incorporating themes of racial justice.
Discussions focus on several books, including David Swanson's 2020 book, Rediscipling the White Church: From Cheap Diversity to True Solidarity.
"Worship practices have the potential to support or undermine our formation as disciples of Christ. Prayer, song, table and word shape our perspectives on race for good or ill," said Ben, who is also chair of Whitworth's music department.
"Racism is prominent in our society. Churches have a responsibility to address it. With worship a weekly community gathering, it is the central point of contact for engaging issues," said Kalani, a 2019 graduate in music ministry and English, who earns a master's in theology in May.
After meeting every two weeks for six months, participants will join Whitworth's Ministry Summit June 21 to 24 and develop projects in their churches through December.
Ben, who grew up in Portland, Ore., is in his 18th year at Whitworth. In directing campus worship, he works with 30 student worship and music leaders. He is also music director at Colbert Presbyterian Church.
He earned a bachelor's degree in music education in 1997 at Whitworth, a master's in 2003 and a doctorate in 2007 in choral conducting at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Ben's interest in race in the church started when he was music director at First Presbyterian in Seattle and the church studied Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith.
"It was my awakening to challenges churches have in engaging racism," he said. "I began to understand what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said 11 a.m. Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week."
Realizing it was important to partner with someone from another culture for the "Anti-Racism and Christian Worship" project, he chose Kalani.
A third-generation Filipino American, she grew up in an Asian-American Pacific Islander majority community in Hawaii.
When Kalani first came to Whitworth, she experienced culture shock that made her more attentive to race, but Spokane has been her home for six years, more than a quarter of her life.
In the fall, she begins master's studies in fine arts, poetry and teaching writing at the University of Montana.
Because Kalani's father was worship leader of a Foursquare church, Kalani was immersed in jubilant, charismatic, nondenominational worship music. She works with Ben to oversee Whitworth's worship teams.
The "Anti-Racism and Christian Worship" group includes seven pastors and 11 worship leaders from Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas and Utah. They are in Presbyterian, Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Evangelical Covenant, United Methodist and non-denominational churches.
One is in a 4,000-member Lutheran church. Others are in churches with 40 members.
They meet 90 minutes every other Monday on Zoom, opening with songs and prayers that uplift justice.
In discussing Redicsiplining the White Church, they explore what anti-racism means. Some participants are helping their congregations develop anti-racism statements.
"Statements are often developed by small groups of church leaders, discerning how to introduce anti-racism and build buy-in by the church," Ben said. "The way churches understand racism continues to evolve.
"In academia, we seek to develop expertise, but never reach the point of arriving. As we move ahead, we find the next thing to deal with. We need to view anti-racism as a lifelong process, not a topic to master," he said.
"How we pray shapes our understanding of God's concern about racism," Ben said.
Kalani observes that few churches effectively use sacred space to create conversations on race, while society has already been creating such conversations in secular space.
"We need to acknowledge the sacred space in storytelling and learning from each other's stories," she said.
"It takes a certain bravery for a pastor or church leader to initiate conversations that may make some members uncomfortable," Ben said, adding that in small groups people over time build trust and reveal personal dynamics that help them see the racism they harbor and need to address.
"The church leaders said they often want to say things but are afraid of offending people," said Kalani, who values hearing them share their ethnic histories. "Some realize for the first time that even if they are white they have an ethnic history."
Ben said the gatherings energize participants, who had thought they were the only ones in their spheres of influence concerned about racism. In the group, they feel encouraged and empowered to go back to their congregations and address issues in ways they might not have been comfortable to do before.
Some started reading groups on anti-racism and bring elements from their study into worship. They believe the church has a role in advocating for change in the community, Ben said.
Several find that prayers in worship are a way to address race.
"Many lacked the language to pray in a way that addresses institutional racism," Ben said. "For many, confessing sin was about personal sin. Now they realize it's also important to confess institutional sin."
One pastor during the season of Lent added a prayer of lamentation for the sins of racism in "our culture and community."
"It's a new idea for many. Confessing systemic racism in worship together can be a powerful first step to acknowledge racism and advocate for change," Ben said. "It's a small change, but disruptive change can be healthy for growth."
Kalani said they introduced social justice songs that help people see institutional racism and introduced prayers from blackliturgist.com.
She pointed out that when Paul preached to Jews in Jerusalem, some rejected his teaching, but he continued to preach the Gospel.
"When we look at anti-racism in worship in the U.S.," said Ben, "we must help our congregations realize that racism had a formative role in our nation's founding. We are living through the results of that history."
Kalani observed that the goal is not necessarily a multi-ethnic church, but dismantling racism in church life and expanding respect for different cultures and people through songs, stories and ideas shared in worship.
For their projects—study groups, retreats or anti-racism worship resources—Kalani and Ben also encourage participants to engage the congregation in the wider community.
For information, call 777-3214, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2021