We call ourselves a working group, and that’s where you’ll see us at our best – in those moments where our planning and our hopes move into action. Our mandate comes from the 2011 report Being Multicultural, Becoming Intercultural. We’re passionately committed to promoting racial equity in this beloved diocese of ours in many ways: through educational programming, through providing resources and expertise, and by offering advocacy and support.
This mandate has become increasingly urgent in light of recent events: the heartless violence that George Floyd (like so many others) suffered; the shocking ongoing recovery of children’s bodies that were unceremoniously discarded at Residential Schools; since the beginning of COVID-19, increased anti-Asian hate crimes; and so many other things. All this brokenness comes at a cost: our hearts feel heavy while at the same time, we are so weary of the effects of the global pandemic.
Writing this just before Advent, I cannot help but think of the musings of Fleming Rutledge, who articulated a profound state of tension in how Christians approach broken times. She believes that we’re not afraid to look this brokenness directly in the face, however disheartening it may be, because we know that the light comes. Nothing, no matter how hard, is too much for God’s loving light. It’s always coming our way, and we trust in it. We wait for it. And there’s good news. Bishop Andrew Asbil and the College of Bishops are deeply engaged in supporting and enabling this hard work of seeking racial equity among God’s people here in the Diocese of Toronto. There is unprecedented action in the works, for which we are deeply grateful.
The theme of the 160th Regular Session of Synod was “Love Thy Neighbour.” Jesus called us to love our neighbours as ourselves and declared that a hallmark of Christian discipleship was mutual love. This love is made visible among us when barriers between cultures and races are brought down, and all members of our Church experience inclusion and representation and are empowered for full participation and belonging. Here are some ways in which our work is advancing that goal.
Beginning with the College of Bishops and diocesan staff, mandatory anti-bias and anti-racism training has begun in earnest in our diocese and has continued throughout the fall with training for clergy and members of Diocesan Council. This training will also be rolled out to parishes next year.
Our committee was invited to draft the diocesan Social Justice Vestry Motion for 2021, which we did with the assistance and expertise of Elin Goulden, Social Justice and Advocacy Consultant. This motion invited parishes to commit to anti-racism as individuals and as communities and provided them with resources to help them do so. The motion highlighted anti-Black racism as a particular form of racism that we are called to recognize and dismantle, along with every other form of racism. The motion was passed by the vast majority of parishes, with many parishes taking the opportunity to reach out to our committee for resources, speakers and more.
In April of 2021, several of our bishops, including our diocesan bishop, attended the virtual White Privilege Conference. This conference has been seen as a challenging, life-changing encounter for those of us who have attended. However aware we thought we were about racial issues, we all found ourselves speechless at the discovery of what we didn’t know.
Our committee has contributed expertise and resources to support the College of Bishops with policy recommendations for incidents such as local hate crimes or racial incidents at the parish, committee, clergy and staff level.
We were invited to join in “Listening Sessions” developed by Bernadette Arthur of Co: Culture Collective. Bernadette used these sessions to help develop the curriculum for the diocesan anti-bias and anti-racism (ABAR) training. These sessions demonstrated how the lived experiences of both clergy and parishioners in our diocese have often left them feeling excluded, while white allies were kept on the fringe and not taken seriously. We place great hope in mandatory ABAR training: that it will begin to untangle these experiences so that we can all understand more deeply the effects of our words, decisions and actions.
Our members have been invited to speak to parishes at Sunday services and group studies to address issues of racism within ourselves and within our church communities. These invitations continue and have included St. Augustine of Canterbury; St. John, Willowdale; St. Mary Magdalene; St. Matthew, Islington; and St. Margaret, New Toronto.
In the new year, our committee will be turning its attention towards a more difficult section of our foundational report: the treatment of cultural congregations and racialized clergy. The diocese has committed to a reporting process like the one used under its Sexual Misconduct Protocol (SMP) to support racialized clergy and congregations. The committee will be making recommendations on what that process should look like.
Additionally, the committee has strongly advocated for the collection of disaggregated race-based data to examine the diocese’s hiring and remuneration practices. Working closely with the Diocesan Diversity Officer, we hope to move forward in this crucial task, which will help us identify where disparities exist and what work must be done to address these issues.
Friends, our diocese is strong, beautiful and faithful. And yet, even among God’s good people, racial disparity exists in various forms. We don’t want to imagine a hate crime happening at one of our churches, but it has happened, and it does happen. We, as God’s loving people, want to believe that full representation of all people is a given. But I remember, at a recent Synod, counting the number of white nominees for an important decision-making committee. Out of 32, 30 were white. That is not full representation. That’s token representation. It’s time to look out at the sea of faces gathered at Synod – hard-working, bright and talented people of so many diverse communities. It’s time that we heard these voices and learned from this diversity of wisdom.
Some years ago, we were shocked to be told that our diocese needed the Sexual Misconduct Protocol. But we learned together that in fact, some members have suffered abuse, and that we need a strong policy in place to protect people. In the same way, the time has come to acknowledge that there is much work to be done in seeking racial equity, and that a similar policy must be put in place to protect victims when things go wrong. At every level of the diocese, people are seeing this truth and are asking for justice. We thank God for this awakening.
These are just some of the broken parts. But for God’s people, there is always good news.
You are an important part of our prayer that issues of racial equity will be named, addressed and healed. We warmly invite you to participate in the anti-bias and anti-racism training that will be offered to your parish. These are hard sessions. My reality was deeply challenged by this training. But the experienced, wise people leading these sessions know how hard it can hit, and they guide us through the training with grace and respect. It’s a life-changing learning experience for all of us. The training doesn’t point a finger of blame. It points out where disparity exists. This knowledge will help us to re-imagine the shape of our future.
Folks, we are God’s faithful beloved in the Diocese of Toronto, and we stand together to face the parts that are broken, but to face them without fear. Talk to each other. Share your experiences. We’re here to support you.