Faith Story: Working Against Racism

Council Priority shared by Council and Anti-racism committee member Sue Cottrol

When my work brought me to Washington DC in the early 1980s I decided to live in Alexandria.  Like the good Ohio German-Lutheran farm girl that I was, I looked for a Lutheran church and I found Good Shepherd.  I joined the church, became a member of Circle 3 women’s Bible study group and enjoyed my church home.

A few years later, I met a man and we decided to get married.  Added to the normal excitement and stress about getting married and making wedding plans was the fact that I was going to marry a black man and I wanted to get married at Good Shepherd. How would my family react?  Would my church family be welcoming?

When I looked out at the congregation they all looked like me…but not my future husband.  Compounding these concerns was it was the 1980s where mixed couples were not that prevalent and also my fear of all the baggage of Virginia being a southern state. So, with a certain amount of apprehension I approached Good Shepherd’s Pastor- an older man that I didn’t know very well and who seemed to be a very conservative and traditional Pastor. How would he react to my request?

But his answer was “Sure, let’s set up the counseling sessions and decide on a date.” And when I told the Circle 3 Bible study women about my wedding plans.  — Their response? “Great! Circle 3 would love to cater the wedding reception for you!” So I was married at Good Shepherd, Circle 3 catered my reception and I  thanked God for leading me to a welcoming church family.

So let’s move forward to the summer of 2015. I was still married to the black man and we had two children.  That June we heard the news of the fatal shooting of 9 African Americans at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  In its aftermath we learned that the church’s Pastor and Associate Pastor were graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and that the suspected shooter was a member of an ELCA congregation.  Our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, urged ELCA congregations to spend a day in repentance and mourning. She further stated “And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities.  We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us.  We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified.  Speak out against inequity.  Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth.”

Good Shepherd church council members responded to Bishop Easton’s call for action by drafting a statement in response to racism and the murders at the Mother Emanuel Church and also formed an anti-racism committee late that summer. Since then, the committee has organized a number of events for Good Shepherd to help us better understand the issues of racism. These included a visit to Alexandria’s African American Museum, a presentation on Virginian historic black landmarks by the head of Howard University’s history department during Black History month, and a book discussion regarding the adverse results of the War On Drugs and resulting mass incarceration of a significant number of poor black youth. We also had discussions on who or what is a racist.  I though what, not me, I not a racist. I’m married to a black man! But I have since learned that racism – a mix of power and privilege and prejudice –need not be necessarily blatantly overt, but often is subtly manifested in defacto white privilege, complacency and ignorance.

This year our church council has identified anti-racism as one of its priorities. Bishop Eaton urged us to “….be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us and that we need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act.”

The anti-racism committee is taking this guidance to heart and will continue to promote opportunities for Good Shepherd members to understand and address racism issues. We will sponsor group outings to explore our area’s rich African American history, are planning to service projects to benefit African American community needs, and to help with voter registration, and explore ways to share fellowship with African American congregations in Alexandria.

One upcoming event is next Sunday, May 15 where we invite you to join a group from Good Shepherd to attend Meade Memorial Episcopal Church’s Jazz at Meade Concert Series.  There’s more information in today’s bulletin about the event. I hope to see you there as well as future events.  Thanks!


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