Newsletter #10 – March 2024

Alastair McKay

21 March 2024

As we approach Holy Week, it is worth revisiting the experience of Jesus in Gethsemane. In the hours before his arrest and execution, as he prays in the garden, Jesus is deeply disturbed. This disturbance finds expression in his body. Luke records that, “in anguish of spirit he prayed more urgently; and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” While medically this might be known as hematidrosis, we might better think of it as dark weeping.

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives
From the Chapel of Christ in Gethsemane, Coventry Cathedral.

Amidst his deep anguish, Jesus seeks the support of his closest disciples, to stay by him amidst the pain and sorrow he is facing. He asks them for just one thing: to stay awake, and be with him in his agony. To remain awake with Jesus would be a natural response to the generous and steadfast love that Jesus has shown them over the previous three years. Instead, Peter, James and John fall asleep, on three occasions. In his hour of trial, they fail Jesus – and, in so doing, deliver him over to the world, and to death.

Baptist theologian, Tim Judson, has made a useful connection between the disciples’ ‘light sleeping’ and the tendency of those of us who are white to fail to attend to the needs of our brothers and sisters of global majority heritage. We can sleep through the ways we are caught up in a culture of whiteness, in church and society. Troublingly, those of us who are white can reveal ‘a practised apathy that witnesses to a racial stupor in the face of Christ’s own call to stay awake.’

If you are white, then join us in the journey of waking up, and staying awake to our brothers and sisters from UK ethnic minorities, attentive to what they need us to hear, and alert to our participation in white normativity. That’s what RI is seeking to address through our Being White programme. What does such wakefulness look like to you?

* See Dark Weeping and Light Sleeping: Whiteness as a Doctrine of De-Formation, by Tim Judson (Regent’s Park College, 2024)

This month we relaunched the recruitment for the 4th cohort of the Reconciling Mission programme. After two earlier unsuccessful attempts – we need four groups to form a viable cohort, and could raise no more than two – this will be a big test of whether our offering appeals to what senior staff consider as missional priorities for their dioceses.

If it doesn’t connect, despite strong evidence for the programme’s impact, then RI will need to do some radical re-thinking.

If you’d like to see your diocese participating, or participating for a second time, then please do contact your Director of Mission and Ministry (or nearest equivalent), and encourage them to look seriously at this opportunity. This year is also likely to be exceptional, as we have the possibility of match-funding from central Church of England funds, for CofE dioceses. So, not an opportunity to be passed up lightly.

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives

The latest research report (see section on ‘What impact does the programme have?’ here) again affirms the programme’s value, including:

  • Peer support and non-competitive collegiality in the process of addressing missional challenges;
  • Connection with fundamental questions about mission, ministry and sharing good news, and articulation of the value of working with local people;
  • Prioritising the work of listening, to peers, congregation members, local people and the Holy Spirit, to discern how God is at work; and
  • The evolution and development of existing and new outreach to local neighbourhoods, in partnership with a wide range of organisations outside the church.

We held our third Reconciling Mission conference at Coventry Cathedral on 19 March 2024. Our keynote speaker was Mary Gregory, the Canon for the Arts and Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral. Mary was reflecting on the Cathedral’s engagement with people and groups in the city of Coventry, the Cathedral’s local neighbourhood. There’ll be more on this in the next newsletter, but in the meantime please watch Mary’s presentation on our YouTube channel.

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives

We have three different groups currently engaging with the Being White programme, from the Dioceses of Gloucester and Manchester, and Chichester Cathedral. It’s encouraging to see how white people are responding to this anti-racism training. They are picking up the challenge of addressing the culture of whiteness in our churches, and of taking action to make their churches more welcoming and inclusive places for people of all ethnicities.

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives

One exciting development has been Al Barrett joining the Being White facilitation team. Al has helped us to articulate more clearly the need for parallel work for those of global majority heritage, to offer them spaces to develop their voice, bolster their pride and encourage their leadership.

Those of us who are white can be clumsy in our handling of issues around race, oblivious to our participation in racism and to the prevailing culture of whiteness, and un-receptive in really listening to the lived experience of colleagues of global majority heritage.

The Being White programme is therefore geared for white people, to raise their awareness, and help develop greater humility and increase their receptivity.

As it’s now four years since Cary Haslam and Alastair McKay facilitated the first Being White programme, they’ve scheduled a day in May for a fundamental review, along with Al Barrett and two members of the CofE Racial Justice Unit. More on this in due course.

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives

After over four years with us, one of our Trustees, Tricia Hillas, is standing down from her role with RI.

Tricia has brought a wise and insightful perspective to the Trustee Board, which has been greatly appreciated.

However, she is heavily committed across her two main roles, as Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, ministering to staff and Parliamentarians, and as Canon Steward and Archdeacon at Westminster Abbey. In addition, she is currently serving on the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission. So, it’s time for her to pass on the baton.

Mindful of another Trustee transition expected next year, RI is therefore searching for one, or possibly two new people to join the Board of Trustees. We seek a Trustee who is enthusiastic about our vision, with suitable skills, who can contribute to moving the charity forward as we grow and develop.

The Board of Trustees would especially welcome a new Trustee:

  • With a strong interest in RI’s Being White anti-racism programme, who can help advise on the programme’s future development; and, if possible,
  • Either, with legal expertise;
  • Or, with marketing, publicity and recruitment expertise.

If you’re interested in this possibility, please email our director, Alastair McKay.

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives

Our director, Alastair McKay, enjoyed a wonderful sabbatical from mid-November, until mid-February, mostly in New Zealand, and is now back in the saddle. He’s thoroughly refreshed, and all fired up for the next five years, until his likely retirement.

In the first month away he made good progress working on chapters towards the Reconciling Mission book. He and his wife Sue enjoyed travels first in Northland, then Stewart Island, and up the South Island coast to Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula. Check out his Facebook and Instagram pages for some highlight photos.

We welcome your prayers for Reconciliation Initiatives. In particular for:

Newsletter #10 - March 2024 Reconciliation Initiatives
  • Recruiting sufficient diocesan groups and participants to form the 4th cohort of the Reconciling Mission programme in 2024;
  • Identifying a suitable new Trustee (or two) to join the Board of RI.
  • The groups from Gloucester and Manchester Dioceses and Chichester Cathedral who are journeying on the Being White programme, and doing work of reflection and taking action to be more actively anti-racist and genuinely inclusive.
  • For the Being White review day on 23rd May.

Thank you for remembering us in your prayers. May you be blessed as you join us in God’s reconciling work.

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