Christ Church in Coronado is hosting a weekly book club currently reading Waking Up White, and kicking off a Sacred Ground educational series that’s part of a global church effort to have deeper discussions on race and faith.
Charlette Preslar, the church’s director of youth and family ministries as well as chaplain of Christ Church Day School, discussed how we’re all children of God who need to choose to participate in a brave space.
The church decided to take up the book as an introduction to the existing worldwide Sacred Ground Episcopal Church program.
Sacred Ground is an educational series designed to foster “a prayerful resource that creates space for difficult but respectful and transformative conversations on race and racism,” Preslar said. From the Sacred Ground website: “it’s a film- and readings-based dialogue series on race, grounded in faith.”
Preslar, who also heads up Formation (an education-based component of the church), and the church’s ministry team discussed the idea and how they could structure the group, as well as future Sacred Ground workshops, during a pandemic.
“It’s very hard to have 38 people (the number participating) on one giant Zoom call,” Preslar said. “That would be completely overwhelming. We have three small groups with one leader in each that are reading the book concurrently.”
The book has nine sections so nine sessions are taking place presently that include discussion prompts from the book and additional resources.
“We were thrilled with the turnout,” Preslar said, adding they had originally planned to launch in the fall but adjusted given the current climate and tremendous need. “Our goal was to have one group of 12. The fact that we have three groups of that many has been just for us a visual of how wanted and needed this type of program is within our community.”
Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race is written by Debby Irving, a racial justice educator and writer as well as teacher and administrator. Throughout her life, Irving says she sensed racial tensions in her personal and professional relationships. She worried about offending people she wanted to befriend. She didn’t understand why her reaching out and diversity efforts lacked traction. In the book she candidly discusses the paradigm shift that adjusted her worldview and life plan.
Preslar said part of the reason Christ Church chose the book is because it’s “so approachable.” She added that other churches have also recommended it as a successful introduction to Sacred Ground.
“(Another reason) we chose to start with a book study for it,” Preslar said of the Sacred Ground program, “is the time spent apart where we’re not in a church community. A video series in the parish hall can’t happen now. Book study and online conversation can get people used to having those challenging conversations.”
Preslar said any other group could have access to the program as well. She explained how it’s designed to create affinity groups that do the work together of exploring race and racism, covering different topics each time together with readings, dialogue prompts and forming a brave place for conversation.
She described how a brave place is different from a safe place or space where the ultimate goal is sharing and support — that in a brave space the focus is on encouraging respectful and constructive dialogue.
Brave spaces are becoming known as places for education, discourse, sharing experiences, recognizing differences and coming to new understandings, undertakings which are often difficult and uncomfortable.
“Our goal locally is to very much have the conversation,” Preslar said, “mirror what the Dismantling Racism youth program does (an Episcopal program for grades 6-12, in which three Coronado students are participating). We want to encourage participation and conversation in brave spaces.”
Preslar said they’ll start the Sacred Ground curriculum once the book sessions are complete.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said of the book club’s reception. “The conversations are deep and heartfelt, and the people who are participating are enjoying the process — but the process is very challenging.
“It’s enjoyable to be doing this work in the community and have the support of community. It’s also sometimes very hard, and it brings to mind how much Black people have struggled for so long. Just as the book title is Waking Up White, we have to wake up to what their realities have been and equity in our world … I would say that it’s life-changing and pushes us toward a positive sense of change.”
The chaplain also mentioned how the day school is in the process of diversifying its library and resources, and teachers are looking at ways to incorporate racially-inclusive books into their curriculums for the coming school year.
“I think the main thing for all of us is that we’ve been doing this work,” Preslar said. “It doesn’t matter how far along you are in doing this journey, there’s always something new to learn. It’s OK to be a beginner and not knowing a thing and pick up and talk. It’s OK to be 15 steps down the road and doing more advanced work. Wherever you are in your journey, we all have an important role to play.”
The church shared how it’s striving to continue to have brave conversations about race, working toward “a viewing of all of us as beloved children of God,” and “how we choose to work together in this world to provide equity for everyone,” Preslar said.
Connect with Christ Church using their website contact page, including being part of their congregation’s deeper discussions on race and faith, “healing racial division and exploring the ways in which we are connected,” Preslar said.
You can also learn more here about the Dismantling Racism youth program and its creator the Absolom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, Georgia.