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One Congregation at a Time- Chesie Lee, Riverton Peace Mission

A WPM story I heard suggested that changes in policing will not happen from the top-down, but by changing our local police departments one at a time. I agree. I believe the same is true of churches. It is good that the National Council of Churches, denominations, and various diocese, synods and conferences are doing racial justice work through truth-telling and conciliation projects, but if local congregations are not engaged, so what? I am serving on the Racial Justice Movement and Ministries Committee of the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church. Members of the committee and the staff leadership are committed to seeking ways to uncover and dismantle racism, recognizing that this will be years of work, while the urgency is that it happens now. The Wyoming Interfaith Network through its Peace and Justice Team has also taken on anti-racism work. The challenge for both entities is that this not be an activity of a few elite, but that every Tom, Dick and Harry and every Jane, Doris and Mary sitting in congregation pews also commit to learn about, acknowledge and act to end racism, personal and systemic. One congregation I know about in Wyoming is doing just that, Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne. Here are a few things that Highlands is doing.

  1. Openly and regularly talking about racism in worship through sermons, liturgy, and prayers.

  2. Every Sunday worship begins with an acknowledgment that where the church building is located is on stolen land from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other Native peoples with a minute of silence for those words to be felt.

  3. Book studies with truth-telling about racism.

  4. Establishing a $25,000 endowment for an emergency fund for Native American students living on the Wind River Indian Reservation attending Central Wyoming College so students will not have to drop out of college should a family emergency arise, which too often happens now. Seed money has been added so that funds are available this year.

  5. Contributed hundreds of dollars through the church and its members for COVID-19 emergency relief, support of an honorarium for a Native youth activist and other endeavors.

  6. A monthly pledge to the Riverton Peace Mission.

  7. A monthly pledge to Wind River Grow Our Own.

  8. Member participation in Wind River Justice Pod discussions and advocacy.

  9. Plans for a visit here to learn more and to build relationships.

  10. Members registering for the May 1st Affinity Aspiring Ally Circle by Zoom.

In addition, Highlands contributes to anti-poverty programs based in Cheyenne. I pray that many other predominately white congregations are doing anti-racist work. I would love to hear your stories. Fear not. Be bold. Be humble. Build relationships. Do justice. Chesie Lee, Riverton Peace Mission, chesie@vcn.com


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