Building the Beloved Community

Building the Beloved Community (BBC) has been a growing effort at First Church for several years.   While many of the key learning events and moments are listed in the timeline below, a large part of this effort has included regular, often in-depth discussions by church leaders and committees as well as formal and informal efforts that are not easily listed in a clear chronology.   Consideration of the style and breadth of our various worship offerings (including Jazz services and Night Song) of intentional efforts towards increasing diversity of our lay leadership and staff, these once 'sacred conversations' shared between a gathered few have taken center stage at Executive Council and Deacons meetings. In addition, BBC team members have been proactive in promoting discussions and brainstorming sessions in small group settings, countless individual meetings and conversations, and by working with people from other faiths and cultures in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and Refugee Immigration Ministry.  No longer a sidebar or an isolated interest of a small group, First Church as a whole has come to "own" the value of this effort even as we recognize we still and will always have more work to do in manifesting God's beloved community.  

BUILDING BELOVED COMMUNITY TIMELINE 2008-2014

Following is a timeline summarizing many of the events and activities working towards a vision of First Church Cambridge as a multicultural and multiracial church in which people of all races, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, economic situations, ages, and abilities feel honored and included.

Sacred Conversations on Race

2008

  • Spring 2008 – UCC develops Resource Guide for Sacred Conversations on Race
  • Fall 2008 -- Karin Case and Meck Goot present a workshop on race at the MBA Fall Meeting.  Dan Smith, Dick Harter and Adwoa Lewis Wilson initiate a series of conversations that Fall with a small group from FCC who had attended
  • December 2008 – Karin Case becomes FCC Interim Minister and shares her leadership with this new group

2009

  • Winter 2009 – announcement in Bulletin inviting other congregants to join the discussions on Sacred Conversations on Race
  • April 2009 – planning meeting for a Moment of Concern to present to the Congregation;  paper developed on First Church and People of Color 1636 – 1980
  • May 2009 – three 10:00 hours to establish sacred space for conversation on the ways our communities are entangled in issues of race and racism:  the history of FCC on race, hopes and fears for the future in relation to race, and envisioning new approaches to diversity and pluralism; introduced “oops” and “ouch” ideas, understanding of levels of racism, and action focus
  • Summer 2009 – two book groups on Witnessing Whiteness
  • Fall/Winter 2009 – Film series:  Race, Power and Illusion (PBS), facilitated by Community Change

2010

  • March 2010 -- Second Sunday lunch
    • Where are we now in terms of the six stages of becoming a multicultural/multiracial church?
  1.  An intentionally segregated church
  2. A “Club” church
  3. A Multicultural church
  4. Identity change—an anti-racist church
  5. Structural change—a transforming church
  6. A Changing church in a changing society
  • Where would we like to be in terms of the six stages?
  • What specific steps are individuals in the congregation willing to make?
  • Taking the pulse of the congregation:  a few registered some anger, but most suggested that we move forward “carefully”, with disagreement about the pace and type of change.
  • April 2010 – report  to Exec Council:  to grow a new spirit in the Church and enter into the polity of the Church; requested individual EC members’ commitments to actions such as attending the My Town tour of the South End, attending a service at The Crossing, Learning about Latin American Liberation Theology with Lisa Molina
  • Spring/summer  2010 – participation in various educational activities above
  • September 2010 – Reframed group’s mission to focus on the positive goal of “Beloved Community” (instead of anti-racism) and on “action” (rather than conversation);  Event article introduced the new name “Building the Beloved Community” to the Congregation

Learning How to Build the Beloved Community

2011

  • January 2011 –
    • visit with Laurene Beth Bowers, Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Randolph and author of Becoming a Multicultural Church
  • February 2011 -- as part of the celebration of First Church’s 375th Anniversary, presentation on First Church’s experience of race, from archival research on Northern slavery in the 17th century to oral histories of diversity at First Church in recent years.
  • April 2011 –
    • Social Justice Forum with Carolyn Wilkins (Berklee College of Music and First Church Jazz Service) speaking about her book, Damn Near White    
    • FCC group tour of exhibit on Race at the Museum of Science. 
    • Developed ideas for collaboration with external organizations such as GBIO, CMM
  • May 2011 -- Social Justice Forum on FCC Response to Anti-Racism resolution at MACUCC Annual Meeting:

Discussion of co-sponsoring resolution on racism with the Amherst Congregational Church; proposed modifications to resolution which were adopted by the Annual Meeting of MACUCC in June; ongoing contact with the Conference Task Force on Racism; recognition that this is a commitment to culture change at FCC, not just a budget issue

  • June 2011
    • “Multicultural” service that introduced elements of the Jazz Service to Sunday morning worship, Adwoa Lewis-Wilson preaching
    • Dr. Bernadette Brooten, (Brandeis University) spoke about her book Beyond Slavery
    • BBC requested and received approval from Executive Council for taking the following  Vision Statement  (grounded in the belief that “God loves us all”) to Annual Meeting for adoption:

To celebrate and strengthen our congregation’s commitment to be Open and Affirming, the “Building the Beloved Community” group is working towards a vision of First Church Cambridge as a multicultural and multiracial church in which people of all races, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, economic situations, ages, and abilities feel honored and included.

  • Fall 2011 -- educational sessions:
    • Dr. Elizabeth Ammons (Tufts University) spoke on “The Importance of Multi-Culturalism in Teaching American Literature.”  
    • Traces of the Trade, a film describing how members of the DeWolf family discovered and processed the knowledge that theirs was the largest slave trading family in US history; discussion led by James DeWolf Perry. 
  • October 2011 – conversations with members of the congregation on personal experiences of race and racism in their lives in a powerful Social Justice Forum in “fishbowl” format
  • November 2011 -- Brief presentation of BBC goals at Congregational meeting in preparation for presentation to Annual Meeting
  • December 2011 – begin planning for “Soup and Stories” sessions in February/March to extend and deepen  conversations  on race and culture

Implementing the Beloved Community Vision

2012

  • January 2012
    • Worship service celebrating Martin Luther King’s life
    • Presentation to Annual Meeting  of vision statement;  congregation approves inclusion of the BBC vision of hospitality into the FCC vision of being Open and Affirming (see above)
  • February/March 2012 -- Two “Soup and Stories” (S&S) gatherings at the Parsonage, breaking bread together and sharing multicultural/multiracial experiences and perceptions with a wide circle of First Church members and friends
  • April 2010 --  Carolyn Wilkins and her band lead Worship, performing music by Duke Ellington
  • May 2012 – Congregational discussion on how our experience of race and culture in life and at First Church informs how we can live into our vision of hospitality.  Four people shared their own experiences in a fish bowl setting followed by a very rich discussion of how to create safe spaces for vulnerable conversations and consider specific steps to move us forward
  • June 2012 – BBC planning group considers its role in implementing this vision and identifies a need for engaging FCC leadership in incorporating the vision into ongoing activities such as Gifts Discernment, Staffing, Worship, Hospitality, etc. 
  • Fall 2012 – educational activities
    • posed questions for conversations at the “Living the Question Café”
    • co-sponsored the films “Kinyarwanda”  (on Rwanda) and “Can We Talk” (on busing for desegregation in Boston) as part of First Church’s annual Social Justice Film Festival
    • worked with the Deacons on worship planning
    • enjoyed a diverse and joyful multicultural/multiracial Worship Service on All Saints Day
    • Social Justice Forum, We Are All God’s Children:  “What will FCC look like as a multicultural/multiracial church?”  “What do we need to do next?” -- engaged in one-on-one conversations with key members and friends at First Church and gathered input on how we should proceed toward implementing the vision statement (see below)
    • co-sponsored and participated in a joint service on November 9 at the Hispanic Baptist Church of Boston led by Ellen Rohan Ball
  • December 2012 – article in Event summarized ideas for specific actions and activities in order to create a more structured program for offering hospitality to strangers in our midst, encouraging individual members of the congregation to get to know newcomers, and celebrating the cultural diversity that already exists at First Church.  

BBC’s Mission: Progress Toward the Beloved Community

2013

  • January 2013 -- Powerful Worship service on Martin Luther King Day with the Boston Children’s Chorus participating
  • Spring/Summer 2013 Activities:
    • Co-sponsored (with Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries/CMM and the Sustainability Guild of Dorchester)  four days during Earth Week in April to transform vacant lots in Dorchester into gardens
    • Participated in discussions of Race Amity, sponsored by Wheelock College 
    • Book group discussing “God Has a Dream” by Desmond Tutu.
    • Set up a “Friends of BBC” group on the FCC website, to publicize coming events of interest
    • Screened rough cut of Arleigh Prelow’s wonderful film, “The Psalm of Howard Thurman”   
    • Supported Bethel Tabernacle Pentecostal Church Children’s Carnival in Dorchester
  • Fall 2013 -- acceptance and acknowledgement of the concept of Beloved Community among FCC individuals and groups well beyond the core BBC group: 
    • Connected BBC’s agenda to a broader church agenda on radical hospitality and outreach to more diverse communities, including a “gentle” and a “deeper” invitation to newcomers
    • Co-sponsored “Hitting Home,” a Social Justice Film Festival offering that documents the devastating effects of gun violence on Inner City populations;  engaged in stimulating and enlightening conversation with visitors from Roxbury Presbyterian Church after the film.
    • October FCC all-church retreat: organized a multi-generational “diversity bingo” game  and a session for adults that discussed the article “What I Found in the Chapel” describing an encounter that  the author, Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, an orthodox rabbi,  had with Howard Thurman
    • BBC representative attended a forum on Race, Justice and Violence in Cambridge, sponsored by the Cambridge Black Pastors Alliance and held at St. Paul’s AME Church in Central Square and a forum on Trayvon Martin at St. Paul’s 
    • Joined forces with a First Church group that has worked with the Mass Coalition Against Gun Violence and GBIO to lobby for more restrictive gun control legislation
    • Participated in planning for Listening Sessions proposed for 2014

2014

  • Winter/Spring 2014
    • Carolyn Wilkins presented her new book, They Raised Me Up
    • Soup and Stories at the Parsonage on Gun Violence and Inequality joined by people from Roxbury Presbyterian and other CMM churches
    • Participation in Jobs Not Jails Rally
    • After church luncheon: “Building Bridges: Responses to Gun Violence and Inequality” with Andrea James, Rachie Lewis, Dan Gelbtuch, and two teens working for jobs for youth; information booklet available on needs of organizations involved with these issues
    • Participation in the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace in Dorchester
    • Planning Soup and Stories at the Parsonage to follow up on the previous session and to celebrate “juneteenth” ending legal slavery in Texas and throughout the US in 1865

 Possible plans for 2014 

  • Book group on Waking Up White or possible congregation-wide summer book read (House Girl)
  • Continued participation and planning for Gun Violence and Inequality activities.
  • “Stand Against Racism,” events to be held in April that are being promoted by a coalition of groups including CMM, the Cambridge NAACP  and the YWCA
  • Possible participation in conversations on economic justice, supported by a CMM grant funded by the Episcopal City Mission
  • John Coltraine memorial service
  • Collaborate with the Listening Group to prepare a BBC Summer activities list for families and kids

*  *  *  *  *

The Beloved Community welcomes comments and additions to the Timeline above and ideas for future activities and events.  Contact Jean Bellow ([email protected]).

For a well-researched paper on the history of race at First Church, please see the link below. Also check out this moving video of the Chester (PA) Children's Chorus of "If I Had Known," a song written for them to grieve for the relatives and friends lost to gun violence in Chester.

Contact: 
Jean Bellow

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