The Writing of an Overture to the 225th General Assembly of the PCUSA: An Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy Blog Post by Diane McCullough, co-chair DRAWP Apology/Overture task force, a Ruling Elder at Webster Groves Presbyterian Church
Some define Epiphany as “a moment of Holiness.” As I write this, it is Epiphany, January 6, 2022. I have always thought of an epiphany as the experience of suddenly realizing an important truth that causes a change in the person experiencing it. Sunday’s sermon and today’s Bible study discussion revealed more details on the subject – the magi were seeking knowledge, they sought out King Herod’s advice for more information and were told to return to him, they went on to find a poor family and a little child, when they saw the child they worshiped him, by a miraculous dream they were warned not to return to King Herod, and they chose to return home by a different route.
In 2021, in the course of writing the apology, I learned a new word, metanoia – a transformative change of heart. We use this word in one of the directives in the overture. This article is about the journey that members of the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery took in October 2019 to the Equal Justice Initiative sites in Montgomery, Alabama. The journey led to both epiphany and metanoia. The group included 35 congregants, three pastors, and one Presbytery staff member (also a pastor) from 13 churches. Twenty-two people were African American, sixteen white, and one Latina.
The Dismantling Racism and Privilege Team (DRAP) of Giddings-Lovejoy organized the trip. This was a team that had existed for several decades and had done significant work but was still unknown to most members of the presbytery. We were also seeking knowledge – how do we actually make a difference around issues of racial inequity within our own presbytery? One of the newer members had been to Montgomery and was adamant that the most effective way to get our members to look at racial inequity would be to organize such a journey. We decided to survey both black and white congregations to determine the interest and, when a lot of interest was expressed, we began the difficult work of planning an experience we knew would be both educational and very emotional. This process involved months of discussion and some real mistakes but perseverance, prayer, and the Holy Spirit came through for us. Recognizing our mistakes and choosing a different route became a truth.
Questions like “what to do with a group of strangers on an eleven-hour bus trip from St. Louis to Montgomery?” and, “after we visit the sites, will we even be able to or want to talk to each other?” had to be addressed. We decided we needed facilitators and chose four people from our presbytery – two black and two white. They handled everything on both bus trips. Getting to know you and self-assessment activities, and movies with relevant themes were used to get minds working. In Montgomery, each of the two evenings we decided to be together for dinner and to debrief that day’s experiences. These discussions were moderated by the pastors involved. The first evening we heard from our Black participants about their personal reactions to both what they had seen that day and to experiences from their past. The white participants mostly listened that night, but the second night, we were challenged to start telling our stories. People started talking of their family histories and confessing how they were implicated in both slavery and its legacy. Because of this mutual truth-telling, trust was building within the group. A small group of people started meeting back at the hotel to further discuss things and on the second night, the subject of an apology came up. Epiphany and metanoia are happening. By the time we were back in St. Louis, the DRAP team had grown from about 12 to over 30 and action plans were underway. This is when the Apology task force was formed.
The Apology task force set right to work and on February 6, 2020, the Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery passed “An Apology to our African American Sisters and Brothers for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy.” The first step in metanoia is to acknowledge what needs to change and, significantly, the DRAP team became an official presbytery committee and the name became The Dismantling Racism and White Privilege Committee (DRAWP). White had originally been thought to be too provocative! The DRAWP Committee is having a ripple effect on a number of congregations within our presbytery and one of those effects was November 6, 2021, GLPBY approval to move forward with the Overture to the 225th General Assembly to offer “An Apology to African Americans for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy.”
The Overture acknowledges the destructive force of white supremacy. It declares A Litany of Repentance, and it directs the PCUSA to take actions, including budget support, that lead to metanoia – transformation spiritually as well as materially. Three days later, the Presbytery of Cincinnati approved concurrence.
We pray that this spirit of epiphany leading to metanoia will ripple through the PCUSA and the nation. This is the beginning. May the Holy Spirit guide us further on our journey.
We do this in the spirit of Christ in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” and 1 John 4: 12 “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us.”
Diane McCullough, co-chair DRAWP Apology/Overture task force,
Ruling Elder at Webster Groves Presbyterian Church