Some Thoughts on Race and Leadership

It has been very hard for me to put into words some of my reflections around the murder of the nine members of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC.   Nothing feels adequate.  

This is what I wrote to Albany Presbytery for our e-news this week.  A beginning of where my thoughts and prayers are.   Peace….


Monday night I had the opportunity to worship at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Albany.  Jim Reisner and some of the members from Westminster/Albany also joined the open invitation of the new pastor of the congregation for anyone who wanted to come together to pray and talk about the racially-motivated murders at Mother Emanuel AME Church.  At the end of the candlelight vigil the Pastor urged us to turn to the people near to us and that we did not know, to hug them and say, “I love you.”  

I found myself wrapped in the embrace of and offering an embrace back to an African-American man perhaps a bit younger than me who I was meeting for the first time in this hug.  

He said to me, “I love you.”  

I said to him, “I love you too.”  

And he held onto me for a few extra moments.  

And I could feel his body shaking as he cried.  

I was also crying.

And so we held onto each other, strangers.  

It was a beautiful moment of the love of God, two people embracing as brother and sister in faith, even though strangers.  I will cherish that embrace.   

Pain and sadness is around us.  

Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr. Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.  

These nine people were murdered inside of their church last week during Bible study.  They welcomed their killer into their midst with Christian hospitality.  And they were repaid with hate, violence, terror and racism.  


I am completely broken hearted over what has happened.  It is unfathomable to me.  It might be easy for me, a white person, to dismiss the actions of the killer and believe that as a white person I can distance myself from this act.  In some ways I can, but in other ways, of course I cannot.  None of us is immune from this sin of racism.  I know my life isn’t.  

And I also know that as a white-majority denomination we have a lot of work to do around questions of race.  Our polity, leadership, educational and worship style is Anglo-centric.  Many of our congregational traditions from the decorations of buildings to the food we serve at coffee hour are part of that heritage.  We are organized for Anglo-centric culture.  

As part of my personal commitment towards ongoing reformation as a disciple of Jesus, I have been meeting once a month on a weeknight evening via online video conference to talk about what it means to be White.  I haven’t made every call and I need to be more diligent.  This is a group of colleagues from around the PC(USA) who are reading the book, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It.  These are hard conversations but I am finding them to be holy conversations where space is opened up for us to work on ourselves as leaders in the larger church and to be honest with ourselves.  Perhaps this is a resource you might want to share with a colleague-group or a small group that you are a part of for learning and conversation.  We take a chapter a month and rotate facilitation.  Attending the White Privilege Conference earlier this year in Louisville with a team from across the PC(USA) and meeting for evening conversations facilitated by Rev. Molly Casteel of the Office of the General Assembly was also helpful.  Molly will be repeating this opportunity in 2016 when this conference comes closer to us in Philadelphia and I commend it to you.  Hard spiritual work is an essential piece for me as I engage the ongoing journey of living into my ever-changing calling to ministry and discipleship.  

These are important questions related to our transition work in the Presbytery as we seek our missional future.  

The question we raised in March of “What is God’s preferred future for Albany Presbytery?” remains an important one.  

The question of “What breaks God’s heart in your community?” posed at Silver Bay is also key.  

How can we hold these questions and our need for repentance and God’s grace before us not only in this time of transition but in our lives as disciples of the Risen Christ?  What learning and soul searching do we need to engage in?  

The night that shots rang out in the Sanctuary of Mother Emanuel the congregation was engaged in Bible study.  The New York Times reports that the passage they were studying was Mark 4:16-20:

“And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Thank you for bearing with my extended reflections in this edition of e-news.  I appreciate the space to share them.  Below are some resources around these issues.  Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to accompany and challenge us in our continued holy conversations…


Belhar Confession [English, Spanish, Korean]

Gun Violence, Gospel Values  [PC(USA) Policy and Resources approved by the 219th General Assembly.   There is also a documentary video Trigger: The Ripple Effects of Gun Violence that goes with this curriculum.  I have a DVD at the Presbytery office if you would like to borrow it.]

Facing Racism, A Vision of Beloved Community [Approved by the 211th General Assembly]

Allies, The Time for Your Silence Has Expired [written by PCUSA Teaching Elder Tawnya Denise Anderson and reprinted in the Christian Century]


Najee Washington holds a photo of her grandmother, Ethel Lance.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney

Mother Emanuel AME Church


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