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Racial Justice at Old Cambridge Baptist Church

from the Racial Justice Group at OCBC, Old Cambridge Baptist Church, Cambridge, MA

Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Cambridge, MA is in the exploration process of putting together a year-long program focused on the work of racial justice.

Racial Justice at Old Cambridge Baptist Church welcomes the entire congregation to engage in a conversation regarding a vision for "A Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing at Old Cambridge Baptist Church." We are exploring the idea of devoting a year in the life of OCBC to the spiritual practice of reconciliation through the challenging work of lament, confession, repentance, and forgiveness, and ending in celebration. This work of discipleship is modeled for us in the Bible which is our guide and inspiration. We envision animating these practices through a liturgical calendar of reconciliation that we create and follow throughout the year with the entire church. We also hope to document the year in various ways in order to serve as a model for reconciliation and healing for other churches and ultimately for our country.

The work of racial justice is embedded in the mission of our church and involves all of us. The idea for this work emerged after a few Racial Justice members read a book entitled Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith over the summer.

Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing at OCBC

Summary of Program: This year of racial reconciliation and healing at OCBC is designed to engage the OCBC, and the broader community, in a liturgical season of lament and introspection in preparation for ongoing work of racial reconciliation and healing descendants of enslaved Africans.

Goal: To facilitate and model lament and confession by OCBC to the descendants of enslaved Africans. It is hoped that through this journey, the church can be a model for larger systems, including the government, to formally apologize to these groups and to request their forgiveness.

Vision Statement

Our vision is for A Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing at the Old Cambridge Baptist Church. This is a Year in which we practice together the difficult spiritual practices of reconciliation-confession, lament and forgiveness (and ending with celebration) -which are modeled for us in the Bible, our guide and inspiration. We envision animating these practices through a liturgical calendar of reconciliation that we create and then participate in with our entire church. We envision documenting this Year in various ways so that it can serve to other churches, and ultimately to our country, as a model for racial reconciliation and healing.

The Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing

Below, we have elaborated on this vision with additional details that describe the activities-or, as we think of them, the Seasons-that will compose this Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing. Our selection of these Seasons is inspired by the stages of reconciliation suggested in Forgive Us, as well as our conversations together.

Fall - September 2016 - Confession & Repentance

We start with confessing our wrongs and repenting.

The first Season in the Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing is the Season of Confession & Repentance. We, the white members of our group, recognize the central role of our white ancestors and of our church in this county's history of racism, and also that we live with the legacies of this history today. Individually, we are aware that we carry deep-seated, and often unconscious, prejudices towards black people. We also recognize that we benefit daily from the many privileges-from wealth to education to self-confidence-that our society and each of us personally bestow and receive as a result of our race. As a church, we recognize that throughout history we have been complicit in, and sometimes even a main perpetrator of, racial violence and injustice in our country and around the world.

This history has eroded the church's position in our community and compromised, rightly, its claim to morality in the eyes of many. Our knowledge of this history, and of our individual prejudices and privilege, leaves us with profound feelings of guilt and shame. These feelings have induced us to respond to evidence of prejudice and privilege with defensiveness instead of compassion, and we feel that our failure to speak openly and vulnerably about our past and current wrongs continues to deny the historical and on-going experience of trauma, violence, and injustice to black people in our country. In other words, our shame prevents us from fulfilling our potential as a beloved community.

This is why we feel a desire to confess and repent. During the Season of Confession & Repentance, we envision that we will learn from the practices modeled in the Bible to together develop testimonies of our place in the history legacies of racial injustice. We will confess the role of the church in creating, perpetuating, and benefiting from institutions of injustice, and we will repent of these sins. We will also develop testimonies as individuals of our own privilege and prejudice. We envision that our confessions will be expressed through writing, art, music, sermons, rituals, and prayer. These testimonies will reconcile within us-as individuals and as a body-our feelings of guilt and shame and enable us to achieve our greater potential for love, empathy, and justice.

Winter - December 2016 - Lament

Once confessed, we lament and mourn injustice.

The second season in the Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing is the Season of Lament. During this Season, we will dwell in the painful history of our incomprehensible cruelty and open our eyes to the uncomfortable ways in which that history lives on in legacies of racism, racialized poverty, and racial injustice. Together, we will watch films, read poems, discuss books, visit sites, share articles, and host speakers that reveal the many racial injustices of our past and present.

As we encounter this legacy, we envision practicing together the spiritual discipline of lament as it is modeled in the Bible-particularly in the Book of Lamentations. Lament involves allowing tears and pain, and giving full voice to our emotions of sorrow, horror, and shame. We envision that in lamenting, we will together become witnesses to the horrors inflicted on black Americans, particularly by or with the complicity of the Christian church.

We desire a Season of Lament because we feel that despite having knowledge about the history of racism in our country-from slavery to lynching to segregation-we have not yet had the space to respond to that history with the full extents of grief. We deeply desire a space to mourn freely and fully the terrors of racial violence, injustice, and persecution that we inherit from our ancestors, our church, and our country.

Spring - April 2017 - Forgiveness

We heal by practicing of forgiveness.

The third season of our Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing is the Season of Forgiveness. Having borne our individual testimonies of privilege and prejudice and our corporate testimony of injustice and violence in the Season of Confession, having felt the pain and suffering of hundreds of years of racism in the Season of Lament, the Season of Forgiveness will turn to God, whose practice of divine forgiveness will be a model for forgiving each other and ourselves. We envision developing our capacity for forgiveness through prayer, meditation, and ritual, and incorporating practices from other societies who have reconciled after the trauma of racial violence. At the end of this Season, and the end of this Year, we envision that we will turn to God and surrender to God the burdens of our guilt, shame, anger, and sorrow, and moving closer to realizing the beloved community on Earth.

Summer - July 2017 - Celebration

The final season of our Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing is the Season of Celebration. This is a time to look over the past 10 months of repentance, healing and forgiveness in order to move forward in a new life together, a new relationship with ourselves and one another. We will celebrate through song, dance, spoken word, times of reflection, and making new commitments as a church and in our individual lives toward continuing work for racial equality.

(Note: we would like to discuss and pray about, over the year of planning, how we will know when we are ready to move on from one season to the next.)

Becoming a Model for Reconciliation

We envision becoming a model for corporate lament, confession, and forgiveness. There are strong precedents of corporate confession in Bible, which we may embrace as part of our religious tradition and use as a model for doing this difficult work. We envision reviving this tradition in our church, where we have the resources of a loving community in which we can be vulnerable and spiritual resources from which we can draw strength.

We envision that our journey to healing will inspire others to do the same, and for this reason, we envision documenting our Year of Racial Reconciliation and Healing, enabling others to learn from our experience. We envision recording the programming for our year, along with the materials that we use, into a resource for other churches seeking healing. We also envision capturing our journey through other media, such as film.

We envision that our church's journey will not only inspire other churches to undertake journeys of reconciliation, but also be a model for our country for lamenting, confessing, and forgiving each other the horrors of the violence inflicted on black people throughout our history.

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