Why We’re Starting a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team
February 14, 2019
A couple of years ago, a young man who grew up in Cambridge walked into our church services on a Sunday and then kept coming back. Turns out, he had first visited on a whim while curious about finding more of a spiritual or religious center for his life. When I asked him why he kept coming back, the first thing he said was, “When I walked in, I saw my whole city there.” He didn’t mean that literally, of course. Cambridge is home to more than 100,000 residents and beautiful and accommodating as our sanctuary is, they would never all fit.
What he meant is that he assumed that when you visit a church, you knew people would mainly be older and they would almost all be of the same race. At Reservoir, though, he saw people of all ages. He met people of many races and cultures. And while he guessed that most people were probably straight (true), he thought that were quite a few LGBTQ folks as well (also true!).
We love this about Reservoir. We are and always have been a multi-racial church. (In America, that means that no more than 80% of people are of one race. Very few churches in America are multiracial, even by this limited definition.) We are also a church that fully includes LGBTQ guests and members and leaders. Again, for churches like ours, this is sadly rare. We are increasingly reflecting the class diversity of city as well, for which we are grateful.
We take none of this for granted, and it’s not coincidental for us. One of our core values at Reservoir is “Action.” Love for Jesus after all compels us to act – to seek justice, show compassion for reconciliation, and hope for transformation in joyful engagement in the world. If this value hadn’t made us a diverse community, we’d be lying or pretending. Another one of our core values is “Everyone.” That’s funny syntax for a value, but we wanted it to stand out a little. We seek to honor people in all their diversity, without condition or exception, as they consider embracing a life connected to Jesus and others. Special things have happened in our community on this front.
As a next step in this journey, we’ve commissioned a Diversity and Inclusion team to help us grow into the greatest possible health and equity in our community and to help position us to be a force for healing and justice in our city as well. This team will meet every couple of months for at least two years, and will have a representative from both our Board and our pastoral staff involved. I’ll also start on the team as well, as this is an area of high interest and passion for me.
Two things that this initiative is not, and then a tiny bit more about what it might become:
One is this is not a window dressing or token initiative. I was in a meeting recently with one of the members of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, discussing the follow-up to their major series on race in Boston, particularly many of the ongoing inequities facing Black Bostonians. When asked what kind of follow-up he’s seen institutions take, the best he could point to were organizations that hired an additional person of color, or started to consider talking about diversity in their human resources departments. That’s frankly relatively token, trivial work, and it’s not good enough. Our church isn’t just interested in micro-improvements to our culture or how we appear to the world. We’re interested in being a community where all people and groups experience an equitable degree of centering and decentering. This team will be taking a hard look at voices and cultures that have been centered too much, and those that have been marginalized, and suggesting ways to repair this. We’re interested in being a church where each person’s story and culture is given appropriate dignity and representation. And we’re interested in having something deeper and better to offer our city than merely the diversity that our young visitor saw in the room.
The other thing this is not is what some people might dismiss as political correctness or virtue signalling. Our core values and longings are matters of the heart, not issues of external conformity to our times. And our desire to write a better story than the stories of racism and classism and sexism and heterosexism and patriarchy have written in our history is a matter of passion and calling, not a yearning to be on trend in some way. Frankly, there’s no one we’re trying to impress, and churches as diverse as ours are rare enough that we also have nothing to prove. We’re shooting for more than that—to be a light and force of healing and justice in our times.
So this team, once it is assembled, will examine some questions and some data that our pastoral team provides. They will share with one another and study and talk and pray and see if they have other questions they’d like to ask themselves. And when they are ready, they will make recommendations to our Board, and talk with our congregation, about what they are learning and what that means.
If you’re reading this and are a member at Reservoir, we’re looking for spiritually engaged, relationally healthy people who have passion and/or experience in diversity, inclusion, and equity work and would be interested in serving on this team over the next couple of years. If you’d like to be considered by our Board, send a short interest statement to our Board member Brian Kang by March 1st. We hope to announce the team and have them start their work in Spring of 2019.