This editorial by our Senior Minister, The Rev. Dr. Stephen Chapin Garner, was featured in The New Canaan Advertiser on Thursday, July 14.
I know this is a classic white person’s attempt to convey anti-racist sentiment, but three of my best friends in the world are, in fact, African American pastors in New York City, Washington D.C., and Birmingham, Alabama. We have been part of a clergy group that has been gathering intentionally for the past sixteen years. Over those years we have shared joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, successes and failures, cultural struggles and cultural differences.
When news began to break last week of yet more black lives lost in engagements with police officers and the subsequent violence exacted on white police officers in Dallas, I called my friends with my most perplexing questions. As a Christian pastor serving in a predominantly white and extremely affluent community, what am I to think about the boiling racial tensions and racial violence in our country? What do I say to the people in my church? What are we to do on God’s Acre as a community faith in response to this cultural crisis?
(I will be sharing some of their reflections in this Sunday’s sermon, “Black and White Issue” at 8 and 10 a.m. at The Congregational Church of New Canaan.)
In what could be a truly disheartening time in our nation’s racially charged history, what fills my heart with some hope for the future is how much I love and cherish these dear friends of mine. I can’t fully explain the joy I find in our mutual devotion to one another. We are different in many ways. Our skin color is different. Our cultural backgrounds are different. The communities we live and work in are different. But, and perhaps more importantly, we share a common faith.
We share common experiences of being husbands and fathers and pastors. We have chosen to freely share our greatest joys and our deepest struggles with one another. We are different and we are friends…and personally, those friendships are among the most important treasures in my life.
If white people in a racially pluralistic country cannot point to one deep and committed relationship they have with a person of color, that is not only a problem, it is a missed opportunity.
In communities like New Canaan we have the luxury of insulating and isolating ourselves from many of the challenges that daily face our world. However, that protective shield can become a life-limiting liability, because it prevents us from engaging in a diversity of relationships that can enrich our lives beyond imagining. It also ignores our Christian commitment for confronting prejudice, hatred, and violence whenever and wherever it is revealed in our world. I believe an answer to racially charged strife and violence is deeply committed inter-racial friendships.
A pastoral colleague recently said to me we need to be asking the question: “Where is God in this mess?” God is found in our comment to and friendship with others.