By: Christa Meland
What is it about our system, people, policies, and practices that is resulting in inequitable outcomes for our clergy of color and congregations of color?
That has been Sabrina Tapia’s guiding question over the past five months as she’s started her role as the Minnesota Conference’s full-time director of racial justice and equity.
“All of us have a role to play in creating a more just world and healing a broken world,” she said, noting that by 2050, one-third of Minnesota’s population will be people of color. “It’s not if we should do this, it’s when.”
She’s about to begin the process of conducting a racial justice audit and will use the data to create a three-year plan. The process, which was developed in consultation with the General Commission on Religion and Race (GCORR), involves a three-pronged approach to gathering information.
The first step involves bringing together clergy and lay Minnesota United Methodists of color from throughout the Minnesota Conference with herself and Bishop Lanette Plambeck on June 29, where they’ll have an opportunity to hear some of Tapia’s ideas and provide input on where to direct racial justice funding in the years to come. Attendees will be invited to help shape the vision for racial justice work within the conference, name the harm they’ve experienced, and share how they’d like to be supported in healing from racial trauma and systemic injustice.
Secondly, Tapia is working on a comprehensive survey that will be sent out to all conference constituents to help assess our strengths and opportunities when it comes to racial justice and equity. For example, does the conference intentionally reach out to people of color for priorities and focus? Are my voice and involvement valued in my involvement with conference programs?
Finally, Tapia intends to visit a sampling of churches from across the conference to get a feel for where our conference is in terms of overall accessibility and five equity areas: climate, environment (including accessibility) and resources, leadership and governance, continuous improvement, and family and community engagement. (District superintendents will recommend churches to visit, but if your church is especially interested in a visit, email Tapia to let her know.)
Eventually, the feedback gathered at the June event, survey data, and observations from in-person visits will be received by a wisdom team that will use them to create a plan of action for 2024 and beyond.
Meanwhile, Tapia and the Appointive Cabinet are working with Elaine Moy—senior director of finance, development, and institutional equity from GCORR—to look at some initial data and consider some key questions going forward.
In her first five months, Tapia has been focused on learning about the conference and meeting with its people to build trust and relationships. One thing she’s discovered: “We have some of the most brilliant, hard-working, dedicated persons in the state of Minnesota working for the Minnesota Conference.”
She also sees opportunities for us to grow, and Tapia’s hope is that we lean into hard conversations about racism and inequity and approach them with a posture of curiosity.
She used the example of hot yoga—which is typically done in humid, high-temperature settings. When you initially enter that 100-degree room, you may begin to panic and feel like you can’t breathe. Your gut might even tell you to get out and run away.
“Right now, we’re feeling that panic,” Tapia said. “We have discomfort that we want to release. My job is to lean into that feeling and guide the conference through the racial justice audit process so that we can move forward together.”
Aside from the racial justice audit, some other initiatives on the horizon are conducting racial justice and equity training for conference staff, supporting multi-lingual churches, and creating processes for translating conference information and opportunities into the multiple languages spoken within our churches. Tapia is also working with a representative from the General Commission on Religion and Race to improve our data-collection processes so that we can accurately measure and assess our racial makeup as a conference over time.
“It’s no longer a question of ‘can we change?’” said Tapia. “Now is the time for us to move into the future which represents the kingdom of heaven on earth. We can lean into these uncomfortable conversations; we can bring the best version of ourselves forward and grow into that kingdom.”
It’s not easy work, but it’s important work. And Tapia’s word to those who might be daunted by what’s before us: “Have hope. There is joy here. There is laughter here. There are positive things ahead.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church