Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice takes first steps as nonprofit with inaugural board

By David Paulsen
Posted Jun 5, 2024

[Episcopal News Service] The inaugural board of the newly formed Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice held its first two meetings last month, and this month, it is preparing to offer an informational session at the 81st General Convention to provide updates on the launch of this much anticipated churchwide network.

The informational session is scheduled for noon-2 p.m. June 25 in Louisville, Kentucky, while bishops and deputies are gathered for the triennial churchwide meeting. Previous listening sessions at smaller church conferences and meetings have been well received, said the Rev. John Kitagawa, chair of the nonprofit’s board of directors.

“There’s a lot of good energy,” Kitagawa, a priest in the Diocese of Arizona, told Episcopal News Service. “Part of the question is how to harness that and bring people together.”

The Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas, the former bishop of Connecticut who serves as the board’s vice chair, echoed Kitagawa’s comments about strong churchwide interest in the coalition’s first steps. “There is a desire, an urgency, to get on with this in the church,” Douglas told ENS, “and I think, frankly, that’s a very good sign.”

After three years of deliberations and planning, the coalition was established in April, when Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and House of Deputies President Julia Ayala Harris, The Episcopal Church’s two presiding officers, signed documentation to incorporate it as an independent nonprofit in New York. The certificate of incorporation states that its purpose is “facilitating, coordinating, encouraging, supporting and networking efforts of individuals, dioceses, parishes, organizations of The Episcopal Church for racial equity and justice and the dismantling of white supremacy.”

National Memorial for Peace and Justice

The Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative founded the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in April 2018 and encouraged counties around the country to pursue local memorials for the victims of lynchings in their communities. The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council visited the memorial in Montgomery during its October 2019 meeting there. Photo: David Paulsen/Episcopal News Service

That mission aligns with the coalition’s founding resolution, passed by the 80th General Convention in 2022, as one of a series of recommendations made by a committee formed by Curry and Ayala Harris’ predecessor, the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings. Curry’s and Jennings’ intention was to press the church to make long-term and lasting commitments to its ongoing racial healing framework.

Executive Council, the church’s governing body between meetings of General Convention, set aside $300,000 in 2023 and 2024 to help launch the new entity. Kitagawa and Douglas, who led the committee that originally proposed the coalition, were among the church leaders appointed by Curry and Ayala Harris to the new “constituting group” that developed the nonprofit incorporation plan.

Its bylaws require a board of directors with a minimum of 17 members, at least 70% of them people of color. Most members of the constituting group agreed to serve on the inaugural nonprofit board, and Curry and Ayala Harris made additional appointments to expand the board to 17 members, among them the Rev. Connie Sanchez of the Diocese of Honduras.

Sanchez said in an email to ENS that she has been encouraged by the board’s initial meetings on Zoom and believes in the coalition’s long-term objectives. “I have faith and hope that the work of this coalition will provide many good results to make our beloved church a sacred, safe space,” Sanchez said. She added that the coalition strengthens The Episcopal Church’s commitment to “always fight for justice and respect the dignity of every human being.”

The board initially agreed to serve staggered one-year and two-year terms, after which all board terms will be two years. That means that each year the board will re-elect or seek replacements for roughly half of its members. In addition, the presiding bishop and House of Deputies president will continue to be responsible for appointing two board members each.

Kitagawa and other board members declined to provide ENS with a copy of the bylaws, saying the document still needs to be translated into Spanish.

The certificate of incorporation, which ENS was able to review, includes the coalition’s name, mission and the ways the church will maintain some oversight over the organization. Its operations “shall at all times be subject to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church,” the document says, and it will be required to submit a Blue Book report to General Convention every three years “for information only,” summarizing its “income, expenses, balance sheet and activities.”

Churchwide budget planners separately developed a future funding plan for the coalition based on 10% of the annual budgetary dividend, or draw, from The Episcopal Church’s unrestricted trust funds. Under that plan, the coalition is due to receive $2.3 million in 2025-27.

The coalition does not require any further action by General Convention for it to begin operations, though Curry and Ayala Harris have proposed a rare joint resolution, A148, that would enshrine that funding mechanism in the church’s canons, to ensure the coalition’s long-term viability.

One unresolved matter is staffing. Kitagawa and Douglas said the bylaws refer to a primary staff person, who also would sit on the board of directors, though the board has not yet set a job description or even a title for that position. They expect that to become a primary focus of the board this fall, so staffing is in place by 2025.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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