Racial Reconciliation Circle
The Racial Reconciliation Circle seeks to help worshippers journey along Becoming Beloved Community’s symbolic labyrinth through acquiring knowledge and becoming allies to our Black neighbors.
Mary Atwell, Jonah Barge, Taylor Briese, Patricia Cope-Levy, John Eure, Claude Lauck, Diane McGuire, Charlie Osterhoudt, Boo Pack, Austin White, and Virginia Sweet, coordinator.
What We Do
Through exposure to educational opportunities, such as Sacred Ground—an in-depth course on the history of Native Americans, enslaved people, and groups that immigrated to the United States that contributed to systemic racism—we are acquiring the truth we did not learn from our textbooks. We offer book studies, films and discussions, large group presentations and extend invitations to other illuminating events and activities held in our community.
Educating ourselves is the prerequisite to becoming allies in our Black communities. Our traditional response as Christians is to be charitable, give, teach, show, and take care of others. This approach, however, can unintentionally center us around whiteness and our own biases. Instead, we develop relationships with our Black neighbors, learn what community groups want to achieve, and stand beside groups in solidarity.
We also seek ways to “repair the breach” through acts of reparations. Our primary reparations activity, albeit waning in our congregation and in need of a new champion, is joining other congregations in restoring Old Lick Cemetery, which was devastated by urban renewal. Three-quarters of Old Lick Cemetery was destroyed during urban renewal efforts, from 1955-65, to make room for I-581. Over 600 graves were moved to Botetourt County with little care and dignity, and much of it constitutes a mass grave. The remaining part of the cemetery across from the Berglund Civic Center has been neglected. Ellen Stick, a community volunteer, has organized an ecumenical effort at uncovering tombstones, clearing brush, identifying graves marked by vinca or trees, cleaning tombstones and creating trails in the wooded parts of the cemetery.
Currently, several of our circle’s committee have joined the Melrose-Rugby and other residents of Northwest Roanoke to advocate for the preservation of the Evans Spring area. “Friends of Evans Spring” are pushing back against commercial development that will take away Evans Spring – an interior wetland, a rare occurrence in our country, that is protected by federal law. In addition to being nationally rare, this land has the largest contiguous forest left within Roanoke City’s limits. If it is destroyed, the heat index in the Northwest will rise another 10-15°–and it is already at least 10° warmer than other residential quadrants in the city. However, the city administration and private owners of the 400-acre parcel want commercial development. Runoff from clear-cutting will jeopardize Evans Spring, increase flooding in the city market area, and diminish the innovative opportunity to determine economic land use on the health and welfare of people in addition to tax revenue. We hope our community will band together to push back against this development, fighting for preservation over profit. We don’t want to watch the same mistakes our community leaders made during urban renewal repeated.
In addition to education and outreach, we have also offered skill-training in listening to those who have differing opinions, cultures, customs, and beliefs. In 2024, we will offer the Kingian principles of non-violence as a method of having difficult conversations. We will also hold the Annual Terry Steer Memorial Presentation featuring esteemed black women who have succeeded against the odds.
What We Need
As some members of the committee rotate off, we are seeking new people with fresh ideas. In particular, we want to recruit parents of school-age children to ensure our efforts meet their needs.
We need a champion who enjoys outdoor work to reinvigorate our church’s participation in restoring Old Lick Cemetery. The community group works one Saturday morning a month to clear brush, prune, dig weeds, clean tombstones, plant bulbs, and pick up litter.
We need people who are engaged in interracial efforts to bring ideas and opportunities. And we need people who have not begun their journey to consider taking Sacred Ground or participating in other similar events offered.
More about Sacred Ground
Recognizing our own lack of accurate history regarding our black neighbors, the National Episcopal Church instituted an in-depth course, Sacred Ground, for its congregations. Those in our church who have invested their time in the course have often remarked that they have been transformed. Participants have been enlightened by learning accurate history in the context of how systemic racism was historically built into our institutions and laws.
The Christ Church Racial Reconciliation circle has continued its offering of educational activities to inform ourselves of authentic lives led by blacks; exploring our own implicit biases (all people have implicit biases) and the concept of white privilege (not individually privileged with money and social status, but based on the fact that laws and policies excluded blacks historically from education, housing, medical care, etc).
To learn more about Sacred Ground, its benefits, what to expect, and to see videos from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, visit the Episcopal Church’s website: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/sacred-ground/