Episcopal Task Force Update on Race and Culture
By Rev. Kim Jenne
During the Pre-Conference Briefing on May 27, Bishop Bob Farr and Rev. T. Cody Collier presented a Conference update on culture work as it relates to race and ethnicity.
In January 2021, Bishop Bob Farr invited 10 members to form the Episcopal Task Force on Race and Culture to help guide Missouri Conference change in the areas of bias, racism and creating a culture that values “unity in Christ and diversity in the Kingdom.”
The report was developed by Missouri laity and clergy to help guide Conference leadership in creating a safer place for younger and more diverse people. The group virtually met seven times from January through April 2021 and gathered in person with the Cabinet April 29-30 for further conversation around Missouri’s culture.
The task force believes the report’s recommendations provides an opportunity for the Conference and its local churches to work on complicity in the sin of racism and to cultivate spaces for courageous conversations, listening, learning, confession, accountability, and movement toward real racial justice in all aspects of the Annual Conference. On May 20, the Cabinet received the preliminary report of the task force.
During the Pre-Conference Briefing in May, Rev. Collier shared highlights of the preliminary report with the Annual Conference. The preliminary report includes more specific actions including recommendations on tactics and timeline, but as Rev. Collier indicated in his presentation, the report now lies with Bishop Farr. The timeline shared for further action includes the Cabinet and Mission Council’s work from August 1 to December 15 with an anticipated release of the final report in January 2022.
“I am grateful for the work of the task force,” Bishop Farr said. “Folks from around our Conference met virtually in the middle of a pandemic to deal with the ongoing pandemic of racial and ethnic bias in our Conference.”
The task force’s recommendations include the following strategies categorized by four focus areas laid out by Bishop Farr.
BELOVED COMMUNITYThis area will focus on the concepts of awareness, practice and accountability in developing learning communities for the work of building racial stamina (i.e., learning to have difficult conversations around race) and dismantling racism in our churches and communities.
- Build awareness around the concept of the Beloved Community and equip United Methodists in Missouri for intergenerational conversations on bias, racial justice, and Jesus’s understanding of loving God and neighbor.
- Build appreciation for the diversity of the Conference by sharing Black, Brown and Asian people’s stories and encounters with racism, as well as hopes and ideas for combating it.
- Assess Conference attitudes around bias, culture, race and privilege to create a baseline for how the Conference is doing related to diversity and inclusion.
TRAINING & ACCOUNTABILITYThis area of work will design and implement required training and systems of accountability for Conference leadership including the Missouri Cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, and Conference and District staff.
- Build a Conference-wide training plan for clergy and laity in the areas of intercultural competency, implicit bias, microaggressions and cultural blind spots.
- Make diversity an integral part of the Missouri Conference mission, vision and expectations.
LEADERSHIP & RECRUITMENTThis area will identify leadership opportunities where people of color have more opportunities to serve, where their voices are heard and their opinions are valued within the Missouri Conference.
- Develop processes for the recruitment of leaders that demonstrates a high value on diversity and inclusion.
EQUITY WORKThis area of work will identify opportunities for greater financial equity for people and communities of color in employment, appointment-making, equal pay for equal work, congregational development, grant-making, and other policies, procedures and protocols.
- Prioritize diversity for Conference staff and the organization of Conference work.
- Develop equity plans across Conference-funding arrangements.
This effort is part of intended multi-level strategy to build a framework for required training around implicit bias, intercultural competency, and microaggressions for all leaders in the Missouri Conference. The Conference has sought counsel from GCORR, specifically Giovanni Arroyo, newly named General Secretary, in building a framework for entry into this work.
The Missouri Conference contracted with culture coach Nikki Lerner for individual and group coaching, consultation and training including:
- Core Competency Training for Conference and District staff, BOM executive board and Values chairperson. The initial trainings occurred March 2 and May 12, and four more sessions to be scheduled over the next 18 months. The training will focus on six Core Competency Trainings: 1) multicolored or multicultural, 2) four anchors of a multicultural organization, 3) the color palette, 4) responding to racially fueled events, 5) challenges of the multicultural leader, and 6) I hear you: safe conversations around race and culture. This training builds on unconscious bias training for Conference staff provided by Nikki McGruder of Diversity Awareness Partnership in August 2017 and diversity training by Latasha Morrison, author of Be the Bridge, for Conference staff and Cabinet in January 2020.
- Culture Coaching sessions led by Ms. Lerner include one-on-one monthly sessions with Bishop Farr, monthly sessions with Conference directors and monthly sessions with District Superintendents.
- Building a favorable work environment for a diversity of people at the Conference center including identifying and naming unwanted behaviors and culture and developing a declaration of the culture wanted.