This Advent, as we near the close of a hard and heavy year for all of us, we know more than ever that we desperately need sacred space to lament, grieve, receive spiritual comfort, and glimpse hope. At the same time, heeding the call to justice is just as needed as ever. Pastoral leaders often discuss the pastoral and the prophetic as two separate entities, perhaps two callings that are diametrically opposed. We believe that this binary is false, for no pastoral care should ever ignore or cause further harm to the suffering, and prophetic ministry is most effective when lived out in community and relationship.
As you dig into our Those Who Dream Advent materials, including our devotional booklet, you will see that many of our images and theological reflections speak prophetically to themes of racial and social justice. In the work we do together as A Sanctified Art, we seek to be faithful to the stirring of the Spirit when creating art and resources, knowing that what we create might comfort, challenge, inspire, educate, and stretch those who engage with the materials. In all of our work, we are committed to anti-racism and anti-oppression. These commitments stem from our reading of scripture. In our sacred texts, we see a God who works for the liberation, justice, and wholeness of all of humanity; therefore, these theological values inform how we craft our art and resources for churches. We created these materials in May-June of this year (2020) following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, which ignited an historic groundswell of support and movement for dismantling racism. Six months later, when the call to dismantle racism continues to be just as urgent, we pray these materials continue to further and deepen the momentum and transformation that was activated in those months.
Our greatest hope and prayer is that our patron churches will not shy away from the content in our resources (even if it sparks discomfort, critique, or pushback), but use it as an opportunity for education, conversation, and—God-willing—transformation. We’ve long hoped that the way our work meets people—through art, poetry, liturgy, and written reflections—might provide openings for conversation, wrestling, prayer, and deeper connection with God. Here are some suggestions that we hope are helpful for utilizing the materials pastorally and prophetically this Advent season.
We highly encourage you to host sessions via Zoom to reflect weekly on the content in our Advent devotional and the other materials you are using. Use this space to share reflections and talk through reactions, insights, and reflections. Encourage human connection, as isolation can deepen divisions, misinformation, and harmful patterns.
Be intentional about how you facilitate conversations so that they can lead to productive—not destructive—dialogue and sharing. My spouse and I help lead our church’s racial equity task force. Recently we have been facilitating conversations on racial justice (via Zoom) in our predominately white church. The following is a basic rubric we follow, which you are welcome to adopt or adapt:
Set the Space
We do this by inviting every participant to name one word that speaks to or represents something they are feeling or thinking as they enter the session. Invite participants to name this word aloud or type it into the chat. You might ask, “What’s one word that represents what you bring into this space?” Their word can be anything that comes to mind (for example: “hopeful,” “weary,” “curious”). Allow the naming of these words to set the space and remind you of your common humanity. You could also include the naming of these words into your opening prayer.
If you have a mission statement for your church, you could read this as a reminder of your common purpose together. Our racial equity task force has a mission statement that we read aloud often as a way to practice repentance and remind ourselves of our commitment to the long, messy, spiritual journey of racial justice.
Begin by establishing norms for your discussion and inviting everyone to commit to these norms. These are the ones we’ve established:
Speak from the ‘I’—Commit to using phrases such as, “In my experience…” “I’m curious about…” “In this image, I see…” Do not make personal attacks, speak for other people, or state generalities or stereotypes. Speak only for yourself.
Listen from the heart—Commit to compassionate listening. Commit to receiving what your neighbors offer. Commit to a space where everyone can feel heard.
Step up & step back—It can be awkward to navigate speaking up in a virtual space, but remember that as a participant you are called to both speak up and step back and listen. Be mindful that you are doing both gracefully throughout the conversation.
Consider intent and impact—Be intentional about what you share and how you say it. Be mindful that what you intend to say may not be how it’s received. Consider the impact of your words before you speak them and endeavor to avoid doing harm.
Pause between speakers—Establish a norm of pausing between speakers to avoid an atmosphere of people speaking over each other. You could establish a system of raising hands (on the webcam or via the “wave” icon) before speaking. Welcome silence to let words and thoughts sink in.
Be a fellow sojourner—We are all on a journey, but we may be at different places along the way. Recognize that our faith journeys and our anti-racism journeys are on-going and never-ending.
Stay curious—Even if we are struggling to develop compassion for our neighbors, we can always remain curious about them. If you are having trouble understanding someone’s perspective, respond with questions such as, “Can you tell me more about how _____ impacts you?” “Would you be willing to share how ______ makes you feel?”
Time for Sharing
Devote the bulk of your time toward sharing. If you can, break into small groups (utilizing functions such as break-out rooms). Use prompts, such as any of the following, to guide your conversation on the weekly content in our Advent devotional. You might consider setting time limits for discussion (reminding beforehand of your collective commitment to stepping up and stepping back) to avoid situations where one person hogs the conversation.
Share something that resonated with you and why?
Share something that challenged you or invited you to see or learn something new.
Share something you’re curious about or share a question that emerged.
Share a takeaway—what’s something from this week’s content that you want to remember?
If you broke into small groups, come back together as one large group. If time allows, invite each small group to share one thing that emerged in their conversation together. Then, like you did at the beginning, invite participants to name another word, perhaps a new word, that represents something they are feeling or thinking about as you conclude the session. Invite them to name that word aloud, or type it into the chat. Encourage them to reflect on the words they shared both at the beginning and the end of the session.
We created our Advent resources alongside our honored and incredibly talented guest contributors, Dr. Marcia Riggs and the members of the band and worship collective, The Many. We remain convinced that humanizing each other is the best way to faithfully pursue collective justice-making. Because you may not personally know us, we’ve recorded short videos introducing ourselves and inviting you to journey with us this Advent season. You are more than welcome to share these videos in worship, study sessions, or emails to your congregation to encourage human connection as you journey with these materials this Advent season. You can open and download each of these videos in Vimeo. You can find more biographical information for the SA team here. Learn more about our guest contributors here.
While there are countless anti-racism resources, we’ve found the following resources particularly meaningful and compelling in this time.
Dr. Marcia Riggs, the author of the biblical commentary in our Advent devotional, hosted this powerful discussion with Black professors and alumni of Columbia Theological Seminary (Decatur, GA) and was generous to make the full conversation publicly available. You might watch and share this meaningful conversation with your congregation.
Why do we affirm that Black Lives Matter? Many of us on the SA team are ordained ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This statement beautifully articulates why our denomination supports the Black Lives Matter movement and responds to common misinformation about the movement. The statement was written by a team of mostly Black Presbyterian leadership, including Rev. T. Denise Anderson, who is our guest contributor for our upcoming Lent 2021 resources.
This webinar hosted by Vanderbilt Divinity School highlights the need to cultivate courageous moral leadership in this time of racial reckoning. The webinar features research by Robert P. Jones and his new book, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. His research reveals that racism trends higher in white Evangelical & Mainline churches than it does for white people who are not religiously affiliated. In other words, white Christians are the largest perpetuators of white supremacy. The panel includes contributions from Dean Emilie M. Townes and Professor Phillis I. Sheppard. If you are a predominately white church, we hope this webinar can be convicting, and activating for you and your community. Here are a few quotes from the webinar that we found particularly compelling:
“We often practice a compromised Christianity instead of a biblically- or theologically-based Christianity. We inherit this stuff [referring to white supremacy] and manifest it in our cultural groupings. . . Do not do this [referring to anti-racism work] by yourself. You need a circle of accountability.” —Dean Emilie M. Townes
“Addressing white supremacy is often seen as optimal by the majority of Americans […] as something you can sign on and sign off […] not being aware of what keeps white supremacy in place. Churches fail when they fail to hold up the mirror to these practices to reflect the truth.” —Professor Phillis I. Sheppard
“Stop talking about reconciliation. Talk about justice and repair. . . This is not an altruistic project for us [referring to white Christians]. This is about our souls, about how our own faith has been distorted. This is a project to save the integrity of White Christianity itself. . . The backlash is so loud right now because the wheels are turning.” —Robert P. Jones, scholar and author of “white Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.”
Lastly, thank you for your commitment to pastoring and pursuing justice. It’s no easy task to do both, but God has called many of us to this task today, just as God called our ancestors in faith to walk this path in ages past. We do not walk alone. We hope we can honor and support your ministry this season and in the seasons to come.
Lisle Gwynn Garrity (she/her) is a Pastorist (pastor + artist), retreat leader, and creative entrepreneur seeking to fill the church with more color, paint, mystery, and creativity. She founded A Sanctified Art with the conviction that, in order to thrive, the church needs more creative expression and art-filled freedom.