This Circle Has Room for You
By Kristin Gifford
Date Posted Tuesday, December 1, 2020
We sat in a circle--carefully spaced six feet apart from each other, wearing masks in the sanctuary space of Cornerstone Church. Minnesota early snowfall was swirling outside and at 6:30pm it was already completely dark. Even though our huddle of chairs was wide, the sense in the room was one of intimacy and warmth. Young, old, and in-between--we were here to talk about racism one more time in a beloved community we had created. We all bowed our heads in gratitude for this precious gift.
We hadn’t known we would find this space of deep connectedness and thankfulness. We hadn’t even had a name, a website, or a mission until May 25, 2020. The murder of George Floyd. Up until then we had been a casual support group of 12ish Christians, sharing prayer requests and completing the occasional Bible study together. But then a man, a black man, a child of the living God was murdered by police mere miles from where our church stood. We were suddenly each other’s support and solace in the devastation we all felt.
And God began to lay a vision on our hearts--as we talked and listened and learned about the church’s complicity in systemic oppression, the evangelical support for a racist president, the church’s continuous silence about racism, and the lack of education within and through the church about racial violence, this vision continued to form. Much of our devastation in the weeks and months following Floyd’s murder wasn’t just the existence of the racist systems that perpetuate such violence, but also the weakness of the language and the empathy that Christians were able to offer towards this oppression. This weakness became a place where we, particularly our members of color, experienced even further wounding.
The devastation in our city was well underway with enforced curfews, smoke in the air, and fear clapped behind plywood plastered over storefronts. Our church sent an email saying “pray bold for peace.”
A BIPOC member of ours lamented online that she has so little representation in our very, very white church. A white board member responded, “you should feel more loved.”
The words “I can’t breathe,” played again and again in one of our women’s minds--all she could hear and see was her baby crying that cry. And a white church member sent her a text message about the perspective of the cops.
We emailed and asked and asked for acknowledgment of the deep lament we needed to express for all the ocean of grief and the wildfire of rage. The email came back with “let’s wait until emotions die down a bit more.”
For weeks our small group met daily for sessions of morning prayer, we encouraged each other with emails full of podcasts, articles, and encouragement about holding onto the call for justice and the lament of the oppressed. We dreamed and brainstormed and laughed and sat in lots of angry silence, lots of prayerful silence. And hope and vision were birthed. This vision is still forming for us--but it began with the “My Voice Matters” series we hosted in our church this past September and October. For eight weeks HeartsBrokenEyesOpen (that’s us!) hosted a series called “My Voice Matters,” with an emphasis on calling our local church to a place of understanding and transformation around racism, white supremacy and racial justice.
Each week we walked those who came through the stories of those in our group--the racism and silencing they had experienced, both in and out of the church. We shared scripture and sat in quiet prayer. We labored to tell the truth, to make it realized in that sanctuary space. We didn’t know if our stories would be heard or if our truth would be acknowledged.
And people came. People came with questions and answers. People sat and listened. People critiqued and pushed. People came, in humility, with the gift of their full presence.
We didn’t fix racism, we didn’t create a step-by-step plan for the future of our church, we didn’t become best friends, but we did begin to build a different story, a story that is one of hope and is one of community. A story where racism can be named and grieved and people can sit together in a circle of protection around that story.