Taking the Long View
By Rev. Kelley Jepsen, First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IN
The Racial Justice Task Force at First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Indiana has been operating for three years. Three years of learning and growing, stretching ourselves to be better advocates for our neighbors. Three years of looking for ways to dismantle structural racism in our community using the PCUSA’s Matthew 25 framework. Three years of wondering, “where do we go from here?”
A lot can be accomplished in three years, and yet time passes and suddenly it is hard to see where progress is being made. Tackling such a large and ambiguous topic like “dismantling structural racism” makes it nearly impossible to track where we are making headway in our community. How does one measure changed hearts and minds? How can we enact meaningful change that is also measurable? With the scale of the problem, our efforts can feel small and seemingly insignificant. It is too easy to get focused on what we are doing now without taking time to take the long view of the work we are called to. Working with the Myrtle Collaboration has not only helped us to fund projects and ministries in this area, but it has also helped us to develop a sense of calling and connection to the shared work of enacting God’s justice in the world.
Having the Myrtle Collaboration as a partner has helped us focus on our calling to do this work with a long-term focus in mind. This welcome re-framing of our role has shifted our understanding of the work, changing the question from “how do we fix this problem?” to “what is the next right step?” Instead of looking for answers to unanswerable questions, we’ve decided to look at our role in dismantling structural racism in this time and in this place. By focusing on our calling, we have been able to localize our experiences and work, keeping us from being overwhelmed to the point of inaction. After digging more deeply into what our calling was in this time and place, we recognized our desire to be working with the inequities in our local schools. With this focus in mind, we’ve been able to hold listening sessions with educators and administrators, helped with field days and Christmas programs, and boosted visibility of the local parent-teacher organizations that are traditionally underfunded. This refinement of our calling has spurred us to dig into specific issues that, while not fixing structural racism, will surely work to chip away at it in our city.
The Myrtle Collaboration has also shown us the value of connecting with other congregations to see a greater impact. Our cohort consists of our congregation, First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, as well as two churches in Columbus, IN: Fairlawn Presbyterian and First Presbyterian Church. Together, we have had the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, amplifying what any of us may have been able to accomplish alone. Having partners in ministry is critical when working on ambiguous questions with long, complicated histories and ever-changing ideas on answers.
All of this work takes time, but it also takes incremental change. While we know that nothing will happen overnight, our partnership with Myrtle and the two congregations in Columbus
have helped us to see that we are not alone in trying to make change. By connecting us to a deeper calling within the work of dismantling structural racism, we have been able to refine and refocus our efforts, making changes in hearts and minds in our community. While there is still work to do (there always will be), I think that these past two years of our connection with the Myrtle Collaboration have been a blessing in helping us to connect not only with our sister communities, but also with our own calling from God.