By Sandy Rude, Vestry member, Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church
What is diversity?
Is it important to have a more diverse and inclusive congregation?
What action should we take to become more diverse and inclusive?
Certainly, there has been a lot in the news about racial diversity.
But, closer to home, our awareness became real when a number of our parish members assisted with a Harvest Pack event at Henry Sibley High School, which is located a half-mile from Saint Anne’s on Highway 110 in the West Saint Paul-Mendota Heights area. As a member of a congregation this is primarily white, our eyes were opened to the fact that our neighborhood, as reflected by the student body at Sibley, was much more ethnically diverse than we thought.
Our observations were confirmed during a recent meeting with a representative of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota who shared some demographic information about our area.
With those pieces of information, we started a discussion.
Naturally, when we use the term inclusiveness or diversity, race is often the first thing that comes to mind. We ask ourselves:
Why don’t more Black, Latino, Native American or Asian Christians want to worship with us (a congregation that is primarily made up of Caucasian members)?
But the more we talked, the more we realized the inclusiveness and diversity can be applied to a wide range of groups and/or situations, such as:
- Thought and belief (e.g., are we accepting of those who question the existence of God but want to be part of our community?)
- Age (e.g., are we inclusive of how church works for Baby Boomers as well as Generation Z?)
- Sexual identity;
- Sexual orientation;
- Social origin;
- Culture; and
I’d like to take a step back for a moment.
About 20 years ago, when our faith community was transitioning from one priest to another, our senior warden at that time, and a group of other parish members, stood up to another group within our congregation and said Saint Anne’s will welcome gay and lesbian members – and in this case, accept a gay man in a dedicated relationship with his partner to serve as our transition priest.
In 2013, after the State of Minnesota made gay marriage legal, Saint Anne’s was one of the first, and possibly the first, congregation to perform a legal gay marriage.
Those are moments of inclusiveness that our members are especially proud of. They were character defining moments which have helped shaped the Saint Anne’s of today.
So as we got deeper into the discussion, other questions started to come up.
- Should Saint Anne’s issue a statement in support of Black Lives Matter?
- Should Saint Anne’s form a bathroom policy for transgender people?
- Are there limits to being a welcoming parish – what if someone derives part of their spirituality from paganism?
Our discussion turned to the very nature of what inclusiveness means. Here is my best attempt to sum up the thoughts of our group – at this time (because we believe our thinking will continue to evolve on this topic):
God calls us to love our neighbors and to have compassion for all. We know this calling includes inclusiveness which facilitates understanding, compassion, and perspective and honors everyone’s place in the world.
This call also can help us to develop skills, values and attitudes to work with others to bring about change in our community and world. Though not intentional, we are sometimes isolated from people of diverse backgrounds. It is natural to find commonalities with people for comfort and familiarity. But we know that moving out of our comfort zone often enriches our lives beyond measure.
As our discussion progressed, we started to generate ideas about how we could be more inclusive and diverse. For example:
- Inviting speakers to share their viewpoints about diverse topics;
- Sharing our outdoor chapel and grounds with other nearby congregations;
- Establishing a community garden to create the opportunity garden with those who don't have the space to garden;
- Having a booth during the Cinco De Mayo celebration on Saint Paul’s Westside in support of the Latino community;
- Serving food representing different cultures during our weekly coffee hour;
- Showing our support for local businesses owned by people representing other cultures, such as purchasing donuts from our local donut shop which is owned by a Vietnamese couple;
- Showcasing diverse artwork and music and throughout our building and our website; and
- Partnering with other churches (even sharing a meal together) representing different culture to build understanding and trust.
As we brainstormed these ideas, we came to the realization that maybe instead of focusing so intently on trying to figure out how we can get more Black, Latino or Native Americans to join our congregation, maybe we need to adopt a mindset of inclusiveness that says: “Let’s embrace the diversity that already surrounds us, let’s reach out and create moments of shared opportunity, and let’s invite the sights, sounds, images, food and language that would make any visitor feel welcome no matter who they are or where they’re at in their faith journey.”
The discussion has just begun.
If you would like to be a part of the journey to explore inclusiveness and diversity at Saint Anne’s, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to include you!