So, St. George was of African descent! When I learned this from a list of the top Black Britons, I was astonished that it had taken so many years for this fact to come to my attention. Had I been asleep when this saint was described, or was this heritage not mentioned, perhaps due to some difficulty in acknowledging this fact about the patron saint of England? Or is this simply one more instance of our general reluctance to talk about race?
My experience of Vancouver Anglicans is that, outside of parish and diocesan peace and justice committees, we rarely talk about race. At a time when difference, and the fear of difference, divides the world, perhaps it's time we talked openly about the difference that is race.
Consider the level of community that might develop in our parishes if we were to discover what our assumptions are about what it's like to live as a Canadian Anglican when we check those assumptions against the experience of fellow parishioners. We would be building on what we learned through, or because of, our Honoring Our Commitment with First Nations people and add to that learning the experience of fellow parishioners whose forebears or who themselves came from Africa, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Central America, the Caribbean or Iran (and elsewhere).
We are thrilled when newcomers discover our church as a welcoming place to worship. Increasingly these newcomers are from other countries (the most recent at St. Mark's Kitsilano is a family from Iran). We shake their hands during the passing of the peace, we introduce ourselves to them, and we invite them into deeper participation in the church. And many of us never pause to wonder whether the manner of our participating in church activities and affairs might reinforce underlying convictions of ethnic and racial difference that pervade our lives as Canadians.
Many assume that because we are all people of good will, children of the same God, with the highest of motives, and with more-or-less similar interpretations of scripture, all is well. Because we tend to be reserved and formal in public, we don't easily remember that English is no longer the mother tongue of all the individuals with whom we worship; a surface appearance of well-being might disguise confusion or misunderstanding. Do they suffer discrimination and hardship? Do they believe that some of us, even inadvertently, hold racist assumptions about them?
In the early part of the 20th Century, many British Columbia Anglicans were enthusiastic supporters of the movement to reinforce the `British' of British Columbia. While it is highly unlikely that anyone will see, in 2005, a white family moving to another pew after a Japanese family moved to sit in the one they'd first occupied (reported by missionary Miss Margaret Foster in the 1930s), are there other things we do that create a distance with fellow worshippers whose experience of the world differs from ours? How do we find out?
Now living in Vancouver, former parishioners at the Church of the Redeemer (Episcopalian), in Morristown, New Jersey describe a parish program involving a group of parishioners who had covenanted to meet together monthly for a year to explore and seek to understand the racial lenses of black and white Americans. The goal was to enable racial healing and personal transformation.
There are undoubtedly other models. How wonderful it would be to have difference enrich our lives—bringing us ever closer to experiencing "how very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity" (Ps. 133)
We should become more aware that all of life is prayer