When I read that the 2018 Gathering of Leaders Theme was “Racial Reconciliation and Discipleship in the Missionary Church,” I immediately checked my calendar to see what Gathering worked with my calendar (and I could drive to!). My congregation is dedicated in our work of anti-racism; it is part of what called me to this ministry. The synergy was too much to ignore – especially in our current political context – and I was hopeful to deepen the difficult conversations about racial/ethnic reconciliation with like-minded colleagues.
The Holy Spirit showed up and did her work! We did go deep into the realities of the pain and fear that people of color experience EVERY DAY. I was confronted – again – that my white privilege allows me more comfort and access than I am aware of (or choose to be aware of) EVERY DAY. The raw, true emotions of my colleagues of color who must deal with ignorance, intolerance, and injustice EVERY DAY was humbling and hard to witness. We sat at the foot of the Cross together for a moment. I was confronted most starkly about the sin of racism and my need for repentance and redemption.
Powerful truths were shared in the presentations and reflections and (like most GOL offerings) were liberally sprinkled with humor and wit. Unfortunately, sometimes the humor got in the way of staying in the pain-filled places, which is indicative of such conversations. Just as we get to a place of dis-ease, we jerk back into a place of comfort (especially for white people) so as to not “lose” ourselves. And yet Jesus tells us in Matthew 10.39, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Two days is not nearly enough time to do this topic justice. Truthfully, a lifetime is probably not long enough, but that is what we have, so I am compelled to continue the work I have to do to be in those uncomfortable places. I am beholden to my courageous colleagues who accompanied me on this short journey. It was one of the most powerful and honest meetings I’ve attended. In a short time, we were able to trust each other enough to speak the Truth. That is what makes GOL a positive and necessary part of our continued formation.
The Rev. Valerie Balling
Monmouth Junction, NJ
Rector, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church