Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
Rev. Dr. Craig Howard, Transitional Leader
Two weeks ago, the Dismantling Racism and Privilege team (DRAP) sponsored a drama performance entitled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” The performance was at Cote Brillante, an African American Presbyterian church located on the Northside of St. Louis. The attendance was outstanding! There was a good mix of African American and European American Presbyterians in the audience. Afterward, DRAP had the audience form small groups of three and four people, and answer three questions. The small groups were intentionally mixed with both African American and European American participants. Each question received about 45 responses from all the small groups. The answers paint a diverse yet similar picture of the members of our presbytery.
As I read the full survey results, I realize the presbytery must find the courage to have a conversation about race. Racism is not just a St. Louis problem. Racism is also hiding under the rug in Cape Girardeau and tucked away in the cabinets in Sikeston. It is present in sleepy Pacific and the refineries of Wood River. Since arriving in Giddings-Lovejoy, I learned of Sundown Towns, where African Americans had to be gone from the area by sundown. Although these laws are now off the books, the towns and this history are part of this presbytery and its history.
At the same time, I’m pleased to report that as I have traveled throughout Giddings-Lovejoy, my experience in each congregation has been one of hospitality and kindness. We have great leaders and members of our congregations.
However, racism and all its ugly tentacles is nevertheless still alive and well in the geographic area of Giddings-Lovejoy.
I believe the future of the church is diversity. The future of our country is diversity. And I believe that’s part of why you called me to serve with you as your Transitional Presbytery Leader. We can either follow the demographic patterns of our communities and our nation, or become a cottage industry catering to a decreasing racial-ethnic group in a smaller and smaller slice of the American pie.
A conversation about race in every corner of the presbytery is the beginning of living into the future.
Now, listen to a few of the voices of the people at the performance. They are African American and European American; young and old; of different economic classes and backgrounds. They are Presbyterians. Some answers are inspiring, and others are surprising.
Here are the three questions, followed by some of answers that were provided.
- Some people say that talking about race creates divisions. What do you think? Should we talk about race?
- Talking about race does not create division, but it may make people uncomfortable.
- It may make people think about their part in promoting racism.
- There’s no chance of getting past race (understanding it) until we talk about it to get to the real issues: Issues of privilege, power, and class.
- There’s more division when we don’t communicate.
- What is the Church’s role regarding social issues?
- Make sure that people understand that Christ spoke out on social issues. The church should follow Christ’s example.
- The church’s role is to educate and lead.
- To stop being so segregated on Sunday.
- Social issues should not be the church’s main function. We are to spend our time “in church” focusing on God.
- What are you afraid of today? What keeps us from going out?
- Afraid of dying young.
- Lack of support.
- Cloudy climate.
- Loss of identity, status.
- Crime is a fear.
- Rapidly changing pace due to technology.
- Government leadership is negative.
- Afraid of all congregations shrinking because church is not a priority. Families are not coming.