Parishes respond to anti-racism vestry motion

Paper doll chain with various skin tones
 on May 1, 2021

Last November, the College of Bishops approved the Social Justice Vestry Motion “Committing Ourselves to Anti-Racism.” While in most years the Social Justice & Advocacy Committee (SJAC) proposes the annual Social Justice Vestry Motion, this year it invited the Bishop’s Committee on Intercultural Ministry to draft the motion, in light of the greater awareness of racial injustice, and anti-Black racism in particular, which came to the fore in 2020. The motion invited parishes to acknowledge anti-Black racism and all forms of racism as a sin against God and against our neighbours. It further asked parishes to commit themselves to recognizing, dismantling and eliminating racism in our secular institutions, in our Church, and in ourselves, and to work for the full inclusion, participation and belongingness of Black, Indigenous and other racialized people in all sectors of our common life.

By mid-March of this year, 40 parishes in the diocese had contacted me directly to report that their parish had passed the motion. These 40 parishes, however, are only the tip of the iceberg. This year, for the first time, the Incumbent’s Return form included the question, “Did your congregation pass a Social Justice Motion at your last Vestry?” Based on the returns uploaded to the diocese’s database by March 23, 130 parishes out of 204, or 64 per cent of the diocese, indicated that they had passed this year’s motion. Of the remainder, 36 parishes indicated that they had not passed the motion, and data from 38 parishes had yet to be uploaded from paper returns.

This is a greater number of positive responses to a Social Justice Vestry Motion than has ever been reported since these motions were introduced! However, due to the change in how the data was collected, it is hard to say to what degree this year’s numbers reflect the ease of reporting, and how much is due to the substance of this year’s motion. While data from the Incumbent’s Return gives a better indication of the number of parishes supporting the motion, it cannot give a qualitative description of the ways in which parishes responded. However, the reports received directly indicate that this year’s motion was gladly received by many parishes, and that congregations have taken it to heart and engaged with it in creative ways.

At St. Olave, Swansea, members of the youth group took turns on Zoom speaking to the motion and putting it into the context of current events and biblical faith. Many parishes are forming anti-racism working groups, planning book and film study series, and inviting guest preachers and workshop leaders to address the topic, while some are also looking inward, inviting parishioners to share their own stories of identity, inclusion and exclusion. Plans to celebrate Asian History Month, with contributions from Asian and South Asian parishioners, are underway at St. Philip-on-the-Hill, Unionville. In addition to learning, dialogue, and celebration, a number of parishes are taking the next steps to examine how their parish life and leadership reflect the racial diversity of their congregations and communities. Several commended the diocese’s effort in rolling out anti-bias/anti-racism training and looked forward to this training being offered at the parish level.  As the anti-racism working group at St. Anne, Toronto, put it, “Together, we seek to go beyond inclusion, to ensure that our faith in action and the spaces we cultivate are reflective of the voices, experiences and identities of Black, Indigenous and other racialized people, so that all members of the Christian family not only feel that they are part of the Church, but also that they have a collective role in reimagining and sustaining it.”

Extrapolating from these reports, it seems that this year’s motion has struck a chord with many parishes who are eager to begin or expand upon this work. While the annual return gives a fuller picture of the extent to which parishes in our diocese engage with the motion, the narrative reports provide much more detail of the ways in which parishes make the motion their own.

Several clergy reported that their parishes had used Vestry season to reflect on the progress they had made on previous Social Justice Vestry Motions, and had been pleased by the work that these motions had inspired in the parish. “I think the SJAC motions are a really effective tool,” said the Rev. Susan Spicer at St. George, Ajax. This is indeed the goal of the annual Social Justice Vestry Motion – for parishes to engage with a particular social justice issue and to find ways to take meaningful action on it, within their local context.


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