Building the Beloved Community

 Building the Beloved Community (BBC) has been a growing effort at First Church since 2008.  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) and intentional efforts towards increasing diversity of our lay leadership and staff, have resulted in these once 'sacred conversations' shared between a gathered few taking on a more “center stage” role throughout the church, including the 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, Refugee Immigration Ministry, Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries, and Mass Coalition Against Gun Violence.  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.  

The Building Beloved Community group welcomes ideas for future activities and events. Also, if you are interested in getting involved in the work of Racial Justice and Building the Beloved Community, please contact Jean Bellow ( or Peggy Stevens (


Timeline 2008-2018

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 – 2008-10 

 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

·        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

·        March 2010 -- Second Sunday lunch

o   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


o   Where would we like to be in terms of the six stages?

o   What specific steps are individuals in the congregation willing to make?

o   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);  Eventarticle introduced the new name “Building the Beloved Community” to the Congregation


Learning How to Build the Beloved Community -- 2011 


·        January 2011 –

o   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.  


o   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

o   “Multicultural” service that introduced elements of the Jazz Service to Sunday morning worship, Adwoa Lewis-Wilson preaching

o   Dr. Bernadette Brooten, (Brandeis University) spoke about her book Beyond Slavery

o   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:

o   Dr. Elizabeth Ammons (Tufts University) spoke on “The Importance of Multi-Culturalism in Teaching American Literature.”   

o   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

o   Worship service celebrating Martin Luther King’s life

o   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

o   posed questions for conversations at the “Living the Question Café”

o   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

o   worked with the Deacons on worship planning

o   enjoyed a diverse and joyful multicultural/multiracial Worship Service on All Saints Day

o   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)

o   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 Vision of Beloved Community  --  2013-14 


·        January 2013 -- Powerful Worship service on Martin Luther King Day with the Boston Children’s Chorus participating

·        Spring/Summer 2013 Activities:

o   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

o   Participated in discussions of Race Amity, sponsored by Wheelock College  

o   Book group discussing “God Has a Dream” by Desmond Tutu.

o   Set up a “Friends of BBC” group on the FCC website, to publicize coming events of interest

o   Supported installation of flags in front of the church to remember the victims of gun violence in Metro Boston

o   Screened rough cut of Arleigh Prelow’s wonderful film, “The Psalm of Howard Thurman”   

o   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:  

o   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

o   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.

o   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

o   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  

o   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

o   Participated in planning for Listening Sessions proposed for 2014


Focus on Inequality, Gun Violence and Police Violence against Young Black Men – 2014-15 


·        Winter 2014

o   Educational hour sharing personal stories related to gun violence; planned advocacy for stronger state laws

o   Carolyn Wilkins presented her new book, They Raised Me Up after church

o   Collaborated on Soup and Stories at the Parsonage on Gun Violence and Inequality,  joined by people from Roxbury Presbyterian and other CMM churches

·        Spring/Summer 2014

o   Collaborated with Witness Against Gun Violence and Inequality group led by Ann McCann on 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 provided on needs of organizations involved with these issues

o   Jobs Not Jails Rally, and the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace sponsored by the Lewis D Brown Peace Institute in Dorchester

o   Participated in successful legislative gun control advocacy by the Mass Coalition Against Gun Violence; State legislature passed stronger laws, including closing private sale loophole, in July 2014

o   Educational sessions with the congregation on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014

o   Attended Kennedy School conference on community policing

o   Integration with Gun Violence & Inequality group at FCC

o   “Witnesses for Peace” brunch at Roxbury PresbyterianAdvent Sermons by Dan Smith and Karin Case about police violence against young black men

o   Installed Black Lives Matter banners in Margaret Jewett Hall and on sign board in front of the church

Ongoing Programming on Racial Justice

o   Soup and Stories at the Parsonage celebrating “juneteenth” which marked the ending legal slavery in 1865; additional “Witnesses for Peace” sessions at Roxbury Presbyterian

o   Collaboration with Sarah Higginbotham on a BBC summer reading list for families and kids; donation of racially appropriate books for young children

o   Discussion of Ta-Nehisi Coates article, The Case for Reparations (Atlantic Monthly, May 21, 2014)

o   Feedback and reactions to the aftermath of  police violence in “Ferguson and Beyond” session


·        Fall 2014

·        Small group discussion at all church Fall Retreat  based on three articles: The Talk: After Ferguson, A Shaded Conversation About Race (NYT), Teaching Tolerance: How white parents should talk to their young kids about race (Slate), For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids,Huffington Post


·        Winter 2015

o   BBC group attendance at the movie “Selma” and follow up discussion

o   “Witnesses for Peace” lunch in Jamaica Plain and discussion of potential collaborations

o   Participated with the Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence in rallies and legislative advocacy for increased funding for youth jobs

o   Educational series: “Beloved Community: Challenging Racism, Violence and Inequality”

§  “Conversation about Race and Racism in the Cambridge Context” with presentations from current and past members on their own experiences

§  After church showing of “Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People”, a very powerful PBS film on the history of race in America in pictures since the invention of the camera using black family albums and contemporary photographs

o   Brainstormed BBC priorities for the FCC planning matrix from the fall Retreat


·        Spring 2015

o   Discussion at Deacon’s meeting about moving toward more inclusive and multicultural music in worship; follow up conversations with Peter, choir members and ministerial staff scheduled for Fall 2015

·        Worship service led by Jean-Dany Joachim and colleague based on the Many Voices Project using poetry against gun violence and racial injustice; First Church Haiku Meditation Workshop after church

·        Brainstormed responses to the strategic  planning matrix, survey and capital campaign

·        Participation in Coalition Against Gun Violence activities including the Got Peace Basketball Tournament where the new gun legislation was celebrated, and Youth Jobs Action Days at the State House

·        FCC group of 19 participated at the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace in Fields Corner Dorchester organized by the Lewis D Brown Peace Institute

·        Participated in GBIO action with Governor Baker  and other elected officials on criminal justice reform, implementation of the 2014 Legislation to Reduce Gun Violence, housing, etc. at Trinity Church

·        Bruce Hoppe and jazz quartet participate in Morning Worship

·        Summer 2015

·        Attendance at Interfaith/Community Prayer Service at Charles Street AME Roxbury in “Response to the Recent Tragic Killings in Charleston, South Carolina”

·        Worship service on June 28 with Dan’s powerful sermon calling for “justice and grace”

·        Continued discussion of the three-priority version of the planning matrix with a focus on fall activities

·        Planning for diverse musical options with Peter Sykes including:  collaboration with Louise Mundinger and jazz musicians from Milton Academy, a return of Bruce Hoppe and his group, Andy Clark leading music in worship based on his exploration of Harvard’s role in the Civil War, possible collaboration with Gospel conductors, and a forum to explore Music at First Church


·        Fall 2015

o   Faith and Life Context Conversations with Dan and Karin on Ta Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and Me

o   Faith and Life Group, Holy Space to Confront Our Own Racism led by Katie Omberg

o   Discussion of Mission Statement and Ministry Plan presented at Fall Retreat; advocated for specific language of Beloved Community in the Mission Statement and specific actions for the Ministry Plan and capital campaign possibly including:

§  Developing a Reparations Fund

§  Obtaining culturally diverse art work

§  Reading lists and discussion groups for all ages

§  Funding for interns to support family, multi-generational and multi-racial ministries

o   Participation in Cambridge Reads:  Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

o   Connected with “Accomplices on Demand”, an volunteer organization seeking white support for Cambridge Black Lives Matter activities such as the BLM Rally November 1

o   “Race, Trauma and Forgiveness”, three session workshop led by Jenny Stuart and Melissa Bartholomew

o   Presentation of GBIO power point presentation on Do Not Stand Idly By at Andover Newton Theological and at First Church to pressure gun manufacturers to install safety and identification features on newly manufactured hand guns

o   Request to Capital Campaign to fund an internal grants program to support racial justice initiatives similar to the “Awake to the Spirit” program


·        Winter, 2016


o  Racial Justice Workshop was held; 4 working groups were established.  The groundwork was laid for activities in each of the following areas:

§   Worship and Arts- Bring other traditions including gospel music into the Sunday morning service. Issa Bibbins from Roxbury Presbyterian came. Service of Repentance was planned.

§   Education- Identified need to reach out to other community organizations such as the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. A trip to the Royal House was planned.

§   Affordable Housing- Group met with Cambridge Faith Affordable Housing Team.  Focus was affordable housing rather than homelessness. Potential partners were other GBIO churches in Cambridge.

§   Reparations and Economic Justice. 

·        Spring, 2016

o  Gun Control Advocacy – group went to the Mother’s Walk for Peace

o  Affordable Housing – two shelter guests were speakers

 o  Dave Kidder gave two sessions on the History of Slavery in New England, Massachusetts, Congregationalism, and at First Church.  He has been researching the history of slavery at First Church and found that a number of slaves were members

 o  Dave Kidder presented a timeline to committee of how our church history of slavery and racial injustice lined up with our National History (i.e. Jim Crow)

 o  Discussed “What would it mean to “own” our church history of slave owning?”

 o  Discussed how the history of slavery and racial injustice could be integrated into the children’s program.


·        Fall, 2016

o  Discussion was had on whether to present the timeline to the church because of their proclivity for looking at history rather than taking action. 

o  Facing our History Sunday workshop

o  Visits to Royall House by youth group and congregation

o  Faith and Life group – read and discussed Just Mercy

o  Faith and Life group on Racial Justice

o  Sunday Morning session on how the events of the US racial history shaped what happens today and reflect on our own experiences with race


·             Winter, 2017


o  Racism and the Enslavement of Africans in the US – Booklet written by Dave Kidder and Introduced at a workshop

o  Micro-aggressions Workshop.  How you can unwillingly say something to people that is offensive.

o  Series of dinner conversations at people’s homes. 


·          Spring, 2017


o  Series of films and discussions were held. (i.e. “Thirteenth)

o  Worship service of the 50th anniversary of Louis Armstrong playing at First Church.

o  Began to talk about a possible memorial to slaves who were baptized at First Church. 

o  Juneteenth Service in June with Willie Sordillo’s group.

o  Youth group went to southern states on a Civil Rights tour.


·          Winter, 2018


o  Issa Bibbins gave a workshop on gospel music and provided music for a service.

o  Civil Rights Movement was subject of Faith and Life Group.

o  Massachusetts UCC Conference sponsored workshop on Racial Justice.  This was a “taste” of a longer workshop to be given in the fall.

o  Civil Rights Tour Planned for Fall, 2018



Beloved Community: Challenging  Racism, Violence & Inequality Group 2015 -- Jean Bellow, Karin Case, Dick Harter, Jean-Dany Joachim, Alice Kidder, Dave Kidder, Nancy Kilburn, Ann McCann, Dave McCann, Katie Omberg, Eric Reidel, Dan Smith, Karen Anne Zee,


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

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.



Jean Bellow

Upcoming Building the Beloved Community Events

October 11, 2018 - 11:30am (Beloved Community)

Call in to your state legislature to support the Safe Communities Act. For information on this issue contact Dave Kidder at

To address institutional racism, please call your state representative and Senator, and ask for abolishment of mandatory minimums in sentencing. Ask them to contact the Joint Committee dealing with this legislation. For more background on this...