(If you need a refresher on reparations, here‘s your best resource.)
We had a Presbytery Meeting (a gathering of representatives from all the congregations in our geographic area) over the weekend and it was a worshipful celebration of what God is doing in our churches. The preaching was excellent. The music was stirring. The reports were informative. We joyfully welcomed new pastors into the Presbytery – seven in all, which is a lot for one meeting.
Each of these pastors is gifted and we are happy they’ve been called to their respective congregations. And yet, this was also a stark reminder of the differences between our predominantly white churches and our predominantly black churches. (Sadly we have too few congregations which look like a rainbow.)
Each of the newly called pastors going to full-time called and installed positions was a white male. (I, for one, like white males. My husband is a white male. So are my brothers. And I gave birth to two white males.)
Two women counted among the seven new pastors as well but they are not in “permanent” positions. One will be ordained to serve as a pastoral resident and one will be “commissioned” to serve a small African American congregation as a Ruling Elder.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to have the resources to call a new full time pastor who will be relatively well-paid with job security and benefits. But the truth is that most of our African American congregations cannot afford to call a full time pastor. There is a divide between the larger “white churches” and the smaller “black churches.” And this brings me to reparations.
The wealth divide between white folks and people of color is best explained by a not-so-deep dive into the history of this country and the 400th Anniversary of the first enslaved people to be brought to what is now the United States. It will take the rest of our lives (white people) to study the cultural, political, and sociological realities of white supremacy and we need to get started, if we haven’t already.
I’m aware of wealthy white congregations who currently “support” poor black congregations throughout my denomination. It happens in a variety of ways from white churches including black churches in their mission budget to partnering together for worship services. But are these efforts more like reparations or patronization?
I’ve been in meetings with representatives from multiple white congregations sitting with representatives from a single black congregations in which the wealthier ones call the not-so-wealthy ones “their mission project” and it feels humiliating.
How can wealthier congregations – which tend to be white – truly partner with our neighbors who, for a long list of cultural reasons based on white privilege, struggle to call a full-time pastor? How can the Church continue to honor historically significant black congregations in our fold while keeping their heritage alive.
In the Presbytery I serve, we have a number of treasured historically African American congregations dating back to the end of the Civil War. What do reparations look like for those churches who started out of slavery, survived through Jim Crow, and now experience the ongoing realities of white privilege?
This is something I continue to ponder as a church leader and I covet your insights.
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Years back, I helped to partner our large wealthy suburban white PCUSA church in the SF suburbs with a large prominant black Baptist black church in the Oakland flats. The good news was the social parity — which helped to forge mutual relationships. The bad news is that we left out a historic small PCUSA black church. In hindsight, I wish we’d first partnered with my Presbyterian friends, and then invited in our ecumenical friends. But I guess you got to start and risk somewhere.
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