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All Saints, St. John’s to Collaborate on Antiracism Initiatives

Last month, the antiracism initiatives at St. John’s, Chicago and All Saints, Chicago, were awarded Becoming Beloved Community grants by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church. The awards—$4000 for St. John’s and $3000 for All Saints—are contingent on the two congregations forming a relationship with one another.

Although their antiracism programs have different origins and objectives, leaders at both congregations say they are enthusiastic about the grant committee’s mandate to collaborate.

At All Saints, the grant will support the work of a group for parents, educators and youth leaders created to “reflect on the work of raising race-conscious children,” says Liz Futrell, a parent of two children, ages five and seven, and a leader of the initiative. The All Saints group is eager to learn from St. John’s, particularly about educating adults on issues of race and racism. “We want to expand our work to be more inclusive,” she says.

“This is perfect timing,” says Laura Singer, a co-chair of the St. John’s Antiracism Team, whose work will be supported by the grant. Since 2018, the group has been educating itself and the congregation about systemic racism and working to build relationships with neighbors, including local Native American groups.

The seeds of St. John’s antiracism work were planted a decade ago, says Singer. That’s when the Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer, the congregation’s rector, first attended the training sponsored by the diocese and facilitated by Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism training (CROAR).

A few other congregation members had participated in the training over the years, says Singer, who studied race and racism in college and then experienced its effects on her co-workers and clients when she was the only white employee of a company located on Chicago’s South Side. She attended the training with three fellow parishioners in 2018 and returned to make an enthusiastic call for volunteers at the parish’s annual meeting the next day. Twenty people signed up for a congregational antiracism team and created what Singer says was a critical mass of congregation members committed to antiracism work.

“It took time for the community to be ready to take it on in a more intentional way,” Singer says. “Our church community is majority white, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do antiracism work. We’re looking at changing systems, so there is a lot of work we can do as mostly white people.”

Later that year, the antiracism team developed its first plan, which focused on how the congregation “could identify, disrupt and dismantle racism.” One result is a statement, called a land acknowledgement, that names the Native American tribes that lived on the land where the church now sits and acknowledges the tribes that live in Chicago today. It begins, “For thousands of years this was the territory of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Odawa.” A plaque bearing the full acknowledgement will be installed on the sidewalk in front of the church in the spring, and the congregation will mark its dedication with a day of education and cultural events designed in collaboration with local Native American groups.

Leaders from All Saints, located eight miles away, will participate in the dedication programs, Futrell says. That congregation’s antiracism work began a couple of years ago when the Rev. Bonnie Perry, the parish’s former rector who is now bishop-elect of Michigan, convened a group “to talk about how we can do better in talking to our children about race.”

Like St. John’s, Futrell says, “All Saints is a mostly white parish with busy working parents.”

“We convened to reflect for a while before we decided on doing some training, starting a little free library, and convening a book club,” she says. The group enlisted a neighborhood organization called Speak Up Chicago to train parents on how to talk with children about race and started a Little Free Library with antiracist books for children, youth, and parents. With grant support, they will sponsor a fifth Speak Up training this spring.

Books are one point of convergence between the two congregations’ efforts. St. John’s has created an adult booklist titled “Reading to End Racism” and intends to create an antiracism library with some of its grant funding. Singer expects the All Saints library to provide additional suggestions for children’s books to include.

“We are excited to learn about their process and are really interested in what they have done,” she says.

Futrell agrees. “We are thinking about where we go from here, and hopefully we will learn from each other.”

The next application cycle for Becoming Beloved Community grants will open on April 1. Learn more about the grant program on the Episcopal Church website.