Opinion: Confessions of a white anti-racistby Sarah Shirk
I arrived at Pittsburgh 2011 (July 4-9) at the beginning of the week of convention, eager to take it all in. I couldn’t wait to run into old friends in the hallway, participate in thought-provoking seminars, and, close to the top of the list, add my voice to the community of voices as we sang familiar hymns.
I even announced (pre-emptively) in my Facebook status that “nothing says happy 4th [of July] like thousands of peace church members singing their theology together in four part harmony!”
However, when I arrived in the hall for the opening worship service on July 4, I was surprised to discover that hymns did not form the backbone of the singing. As the week progressed, it appeared that in fact hymns would take a backseat in the adult worship services for the duration.
I was disappointed, a little confused, and thrown off-balance. I didn’t know the songs the worship band led. I missed the hymns I had grown up singing and come to love.
Wasn’t this the Mennonite convention, after all? Weren’t hymns and four part harmony our bread and butter? I heard a similar sentiment echoed frequently throughout the week. Where had the hymns gone?
But one day during the adult worship, as the band from Calvary Community Church, Hampton, Va., led us in song, I noticed a middle-aged black woman standing a few rows ahead of me. She had her head tilted back, face raised, and was swaying and clapping along with the music.
I wondered how many conventions and how many church services she had previously sat through, feeling as I now did—disconnected and a bit out of my element. But today it was her turn to worship in a style familiar and nurturing to her. So this music is Mennonite music. The middle-aged woman, a Mennonite, sings and worships to music that feeds her.
It’s not familiar territory to me, but I do not have a monopoly on Mennonite culture. Being a multi-cultural church means, for white “ethnic” Mennonites, that sometimes we have to take a step back and be willing to hear and engage other expressions of worship. Sometimes the feeling of losing our balance is a gift that teaches us to walk more gently. And perhaps, after generations of hymns, one week of stepping outside our comfort zones in worship is not too much to ask.
Another moment of insight occurred during a seminar about a California Mennonite congregation embracing multiculturalism. A Latino brother from Virginia who pastors a Mennonite church there asked an important question—“Are we trying to make brothers and sisters in Christ, or are we trying to make traditional Mennonites?”
Are we big enough, do we trust God’s love and grace enough, to allow our corporate body to grow and embrace new traditions and styles of worship? Or do we make acceptance conditional, contingent upon adopting not simply Anabaptist theology but also Anglo culture?
The insidious thing about white privilege is that it’s so hard for white people to see. For me, this week, singing hymns all week long would have been a privilege. It was one that I expected to be granted. I assumed that my culture’s preference in worship styles would again be the norm. Had we sung hymns all week, I may not have even recognized it for the privilege it would have been.
But this week I was given another opportunity—the opportunity to see my own white privilege for what it was and learn more about what it feels like to be in less familiar territory.
Insight, as is so often the case, came gradually, and was aided by plenty of verbal processing with good friends. This is not to say that my understanding is now complete, only that I’m farther along on my journey as a white anti-racist than I was one week ago.
May the God of grace bless us as we continue to learn how to love each other.
- 10 years later ...
- Q & A: Dorothy and John
- To obey or not to obey
- A witness to war
- The power of nonshootout
- Love the church
- Stewards of grace
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- EMM board appoints Nelson Okanya as new president
- Digital bridge at Pittsburgh increases participation by 42 percent
- Theologian Gordon Kaufman dies at 86
- Kidron pastor threatened with note and nooses
- Pittsburgh Mayor still talking
- Opinion: Confessions of a white anti-racist
- MC USA funding system not working
- Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship launches
- Conversation rooms help to build a strong convention bridge
- Pittsburgh 2011 delegates decide to experiment
- Children collect money for day care
- When bridges lead to a 'new creation'
- Q&A between young adults and Executive Board
- Film provokes discussion of immigration
- Gospel challenge: 'Be all you can be'
- Pink Mennos focus on healing and hope
- Ted Swartz reconciles loss of acting partner
- Hipps calls for reconciliation over promoting justice or purity
- Executive Board hears immigration concerns
- Banks first Mennonite woman ordained in NYC in 100 years
- DNA connects Swiss, Puerto Rican Mennonites
- Unflagging patriotism
- For the Ordination of Minister Addie Sanders Banks
- Fewer churches leaving Mennonite Church USA
- Second accident for Bluffton bus accident survivor
- 'Peace Pastor' blog reaches thousands
- Noticed and welcomed or invisible and lonely?
- South African elder celebrates learning
- Endowment to expand pastoral development
- Official account of Spaulding dismissal
- MCC Binational to disband in 2012
- Mennonites speak at peace convocation
- Especial de Meno Acontecer Julio 18, 2011
- Iglesia Menonita Hispana - Julio
- AMBS busca registrador académico
- Proyecto La Voz
- Pittsburgh 2011
- ¡Bienvenidos al Meno Acontecer de Agosto, 2011!
- Joven ¿esperanza, futuro, educación?
- Retiro anual de estudiantes de IBA - Septiembre
- Conferencia Femenil Hispana Menonita
- Educación Continuada 2011 ...
- Recursos de estudio para la congregación
- Nuevo recurso de Dionisio Byler
- Reflexión pastoral - Agosto
- Del Dr. Nuñez
- Our good idols
- Investing in hope: Desolation and consolation
- Death makes me angry
- Christian mission is not exotic
- Freedom Riders remind us of racism
- There is a time for departure
- The Pittsburgh experiment
- July book and film reviews
- Determination and perseverance
- Pink Mennos and conventions
- Pink Mennos and conventions II
- Pink Mennos and conventions III
- Spaulding dismissal
- Spaulding dismissal II
- Supports Spaulding dismissal
- Mennonites pay for war
- Gets choked up, too
- Subscript, not superscript
- Thanks for MPH story