Across the divide: a conversation begins between north and south county churches
by Dan Handschy, rector of Advent Episcopal Church, Crestwood
In the immediate aftermath of the death of Mike Brown, I wanted to find some way of involving Advent in a conversation about race in St. Louis. I called Marc Smith, the Vicar at Ascension (I think within a day or two of the shooting), and asked if our two congregations might find a way of doing something together, "once the dust had settled." [Ascension Church is in Northwoods, separated from Ferguson by two small North County municipalities.] We agreed to a series of meetings together during Lent of 2015.
In the event, we met for four Tuesday evenings this past March for a shared meal, and a conversation. We used the book Mapping Decline to frame the conversation. Crestwood is a near lily-white suburb (neither inner-ring, nor outer-ring), settled in the 50s and 60s as part of the flight from the city. I hoped that people in my congregation could learn to see the systemic advantages that had made it possible for them to settle here, and the costs to the city.
About twelve to fifteen people from Advent (ASA ~75) drove up for the four sessions, and about eight to twelve people from Ascension (ASA ~50) attended each session. The conversations were sometimes uncomfortable, but mostly very good and insightful. More importantly for me, some of the conversations we have had back at Advent have been very transformative. People are beginning to "get" white privilege. Part of our frustration has been that we want to "fix" the problem -- a very white response.
Our last session, we celebrated Eucharist together, in which we offered our discomforts, our gifts, and our willingness to work together to God. Everyone, from both congregations, who attended the meetings wants to continue the relationship somehow. We are not yet sure what that will look like, but we will talk again after Easter to figure out what next.
On a recent Saturday, members of Advent and Ascension cooked and served the Peace Meal at St. John's Church in Tower Grove. We had too many people in the kitchen, but that's a good problem to have!