History of The Commission to Dismantle Racism
The Commission to Dismantle Racism owes its start to General Convention of 1991, which urged the Church to combat all racism and to conduct audits of institutional racism. That same year, the Diocese of Western North Carolina, at its Annual Convention, passed a resolution to implement these actions. The resolution directed the Outreach Commission to establish a “Racism Task Force.”
That task force was established, headed by the Rev. Dn. Crisler Greer, then Deacon-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s, Morganton. After a few meetings, the task force became inactive.
Following the Diocesan Convention of 1993, Ms. Pamela Hemphill, a vestry member of St. Stephen’s wrote to Bishop Robert Johnson protesting that no African Americans had been elected or appointed to any diocesan office or committee. Bishop Johnson responded, acknowledging the failure, and asked Larry Thompson, Chair of Outreach Ministries, to reactivate the task force.
Ms. Fay Walker, a layperson from Brevard, stepped up to lead the Task Force on Racism and Cultural Issues and recruited a solid and diverse corps of dedicated members who worked diligently to make anti-racism a major focus of concern for this diocese.
The task force invited Mr. Enrique Brown, from the Episcopal Church headquarters to help with their planning. He emphasized that it would require long term commitment, as much “inner work” as “outer work,” and remaining centered in the faith.
Beginning with the Diocesan Convention of 1994, the Task Force introduced several resolutions designed to move the diocese forward on the journey to dismantling racism. The first resolution was one urging congregations to observe the commemoration of the feast day of the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church. In 1995, they introduced a resolution to monitor progress in eliminating institutional racism from the Episcopal Church in this diocese and to report findings to all subsequent diocesan conventions. In 1997, the resolution directed that each elected and appointed diocesan commission and committee attend and participate in a four hour workshop, “Overcoming Racism,” sponsored by the Task Force. That requirement, enforced by the diocesan bishops, remains to this day.
At almost every diocesan convention since its inception, the task force nominated persons of color (and their allies) for positions on major diocesan committees and commissions. Almost every Task Force nominee was elected or appointed.
In 2002, the Task Force on Racism and Cultural Issues changed its name to The Commission to Dismantle Racism, for several reasons. First, the term “task force” implied a short-term commitment, rather than a “long haul.” Second, it helped to emphasize the institutional/systemic nature and dimensions of racism, and third, better defined the purpose of the Commission – that being the “dismantling” of racism in all its forms.
In that same year, the Commission requested and received a generous grant from the diocese to send 14 of its members for two weeks of comprehensive faith-based anti-racism training offered by the Mennonite Central Committee. Several of the members who attended that training are still steering the work of the Commission and conducting dismantling racism workshops in the diocese and beyond.
In 2008, the Commission became involved in the “Days of Repentance” initiative mandated by the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. In April, 2011, this diocese held its “Repairing the Breach” service after over 18 months preparation, led by the Rev. SF James Abbott, a member of the Commission. Over 500 communicants participated, including virtually all clergy. The Presiding Bishop at that time, Katharine Jefferts Schori, was the celebrant. Bishop Porter Taylor made apologies for the “sins of the past” and the church’s complicity in its racist past. There were many prayers for forgiveness and healing.
Today, the Commission, in addition to continuing to conduct workshops, is called to facilitate discussions about racism, racial understanding, and reconciliation. Some members of the Commission are involved in the steering of the diocese Beloved Community journey.