Fifth Avenue’s Anti-Racism Response Team is leading a congregation-wide exploration of racial justice in the church.
Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose he bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?—Isaiah 58:1-9
The Anti-Racism Response Team was created in 2020 to lead the congregation in self-assessment, dialogue and advocacy around racial justice. In its first two years, the team has:
- Launched a web series, Fifth Avenue’s Courageous Conversations, featuring congregation members sharing their experiences of racial difference and discrimination.
- Created a four-part community group curriculum on race and storytelling that integrates the web series with readings, podcasts, and questions for meditation and journaling.
- Hosted an Adult Education workshop, “Working for Justice: Conversation around Race & Equity in Church Community.” Church leaders across the country described how they are working toward racial justice in their own communities. The workshop led to a discussion about similar efforts at Fifth Avenue.
- Taken part in two episodes of the Fifth Avenue podcast series, Crossroads, to announce the launch of the church’s anti-racism efforts and to engage Fifth Avenue youth in conversation about racial justice and the church with the Rev. Dr. J. Oscar McCloud, associate pastor emeritus.
- Created a history exhibit in the Chesnut Gallery aligning the church’s history with significant moments in U.S. history regarding civil rights and racial justice.
The Anti-Racism Response Team began as the answer to a question—three questions, in fact, posed by our former executive pastor, Charlene Han Powell, in a sermon shortly after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
“Does America have a race problem?” she asked. She then urged congregants to ask themselves, “Do I have a race problem? Does the church have a race problem?” Charlene challenged the congregation to commit to talking about these questions “three weeks from now, three months from now, three years from now, for as long as it takes.”
Jane Hong, an Elder of the church and the incoming Clerk of Session, took on the challenge and turned to Senior Pastor Scott Black Johnston for counsel. “Scott encouraged me to do what Presbyterians do best,” Jane says. “Gather people together to pray about, discuss and discern a way forward.”
Working with Associate Pastor Werner Ramirez, the original team met to do just that.
“We knew we would not merely jump into action, to check something off a to-do list,” Jane says. “We wanted to think creatively on ways that hearts can be changed, so that we can see all our siblings as people made in the image of God. So we began by telling our own stories. We asked ourselves when we were aware of our race. We shared stories of our experiences of racism, and we dreamed about how the good news of Jesus disrupts racism and racist structures.”
From that initial meeting, Fifth Avenue’s Courageous Conversations was born.
Since then, the Anti-Racism Response Team has determined that its ongoing work will include:
- modeling courageous conversations, enabling church members to listen to and learn from each other
- gathering and sharing resources for use by individuals and groups in the church
- researching and recommending helpful methods of self-reflection around race and racial justice
- identifying areas within the church where improvements can be made