Episcopal Church leaders begin work on creating Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice

By David Paulsen
Posted Feb 7, 2023
Southwestern Virginia pilgrimage

Marchers walk into downtown Staunton, Virginia, during the second day of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia’s Pilgrimage for Racial Justice in August 2019. Photo: Egan Millard/Episcopal News Service

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church took a significant step Feb. 7 toward forming a new Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice by announcing that more than a dozen members had been named to a group that will begin work on the coalition, as mandated in July 2022 by the 80th General Convention.

Ryan Kusumoto, a lay deputy from Hawaii, was named chair of the group, which also includes a diverse mix of other Episcopal leaders, including some who previously served on the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth-Telling, Reckoning and Healing, which had recommended the new coalition in its wide-ranging March 2022 report.

“This is an opportunity for our church to solidify racial justice and equity as a norm,” Kusumoto said in a church news release. “We will be holding listening sessions so the constituting group has a wide breadth of information and understanding to set up the appropriate infrastructure.”

The Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice was intended by the Presiding Officers’ Working Group as a critical driver of the church’s expanded and ongoing efforts to address its historic complicity in white supremacy and the harms of colonialism and imperialism. The coalition will be a voluntary network of dioceses, parishes, church institutions and individuals operating outside the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, The Episcopal Church’s corporate entity. It will be dedicated to improving the church’s uneven track record of prioritizing racial reconciliation and healing, at the denominational level and across its more than 100 dioceses.

General Convention approved a budget for 2023-24 that includes $400,000 in startup funds for the Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice, with the potential for greater funding once it is up and running.

Kusumoto worked with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris to develop a roster for this initial group that will bring a wide range of skills, expertise and experiences to the development of the new coalition.

“I look forward to the report that this constituting group will give to the 81st General Convention in Louisville and our collective response to this call to commit to racial justice within our church,” Ayala Harris said in the news release.

Curry and Ayala Harris’ predecessor, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, formed the Presiding Officers’ Working Group on Truth-Telling, Reckoning and Healing in 2021 to sharpen the church’s focus on confronting its past complicity with racist systems and the lingering legacy of white supremacy embedded in institutions like the church.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Executive Council members walk slowly through the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery on Oct. 19, 2019. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

In its March 2022 report, the working group offered 92 recommendations, including ways to cultivate truth-telling, reckoning, and healing at each level of the church. Suggestions ranged from “research and share the full history of historically Black churches within your diocese” to “commission artists, poets, liturgists, and musicians of color to create new hymnody, prayers, and liturgies.” Such work, endorsed last year in a series of General Convention resolutions, would be “moved forward and amplified” by the Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice.

“The creation of the coalition is not business as usual. This is a long-term commitment for our church to the work of racial truth-telling, justice, healing, and reconciliation,” Curry said in the news release announcing the members of the new group.

“This is a commitment bigger than the three years of a churchwide program and budget, and calling the coalition into being also is calling on us to be creative in how it is organized and structured. That work has been given to the constituting group, and that is not just bureaucracy – that is how to shape the work of this church for the future as instruments of God’s love.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.