In December, Bishop Jenny Andison, the diocese’s Diversity Officer, announced that the diocese would be embarking on anti-racism and anti-bias training for all clergy and staff in the diocese. “We are starting this journey” she says, “so we can build up capacity in the Church to begin to dismantle the barriers that are preventing us from reaching all people with the good news of Jesus Christ.”
With listening sessions conducted in congregations across the diocese, the first phase of the plan is now complete. In January and February, Bernadette Arthur, the founder and lead cultural strategist at Co:Culture Collective, who is leading the 15-month anti-bias and anti-racism training, held listening sessions with members from different congregations and heard about the issues, challenges, obstacles and hurt experienced by Anglicans because of racism and bias in the Church.
Participants expressed a range of experiences around belonging and inclusion in parishes and in the diocese more broadly, Ms. Arthur says. “We heard things like, ‘I’ve found belonging in my local church, but I’ve experienced barriers to accessing
diocesan resources and have felt tokenized by leadership,’” she says.
The experiences shared at the listening sessions will be used to inform the training that will be rolled out over the coming months. “If we’re finding that there’s a pattern with people’s experience of belonging on the parish level, we’ll allow those experiences to inform how the training is designed,” she says.
The listening sessions will inform the content and focus of the training, to ensure that it is relevant to the context of the Diocese of Toronto. “We’ll bring in quotes and stories that we heard,” she says. “It will help us scratch the areas of community life that’s itching.”
The training will address issues of racism and bias at both a parish level and at the structural level of the diocese. It will help promote gender, racial, sexual and ability diversity and inclusion in parishes and in the leadership of the diocese. It will do so using an intersectional lens and biblically inspired approaches.
“Through individual and corporate prayer, and sustained commitment to the learning, unlearning and relearning process, we expect that this journey will result in a different, transformative way that ministry is happening in the diocese. Ministries will operate in a way that people know they are welcome and are able to fully participate in all areas of diocesan life,” she says. “People would know on a gut level, ‘I belong here. I am accepted and loved.’”
With a more inclusive culture, the Church would have a greater capacity to identify issues, address divisive behaviours and develop solutions that reflect the values of the diocese as a faith community. But first, the hard work of addressing racism and bias in the Church needs to be done so that Anglicans can live out the mission that God calls them to.
In the next few months, a group of clergy and lay leaders will be trained to deliver the anti-racism and anti-bias workshop to clergy and staff. “It’s been really promising and encouraging to see the high level of interest and commitment to this work from people across the diocese,” Ms. Arthur says.