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I t is so important to address racism from a Christian perspective in prayer. Prayer requires an understanding of the need to ask God to intercede in how human rights are violated by racist and discriminatory acts in the life of God’s church. Prayer allows the Holy Spirit to make God’s children aware of those practices of sinfulness that promote forms of racism in building God’s church. These practices include individual, interpersonal, institutional, and systemic forms of separating the unity of God’s church.

Our Dismantling Racism Prayer Team explores racism as a spiritual disease, where conscious or unconscious practices depict that certain church members are inherently superior to other people because they belong to a particular race, culture, sexuality, and oftentimes a privileged church. Although the concept of race has humanist principles and is a social construct, racism and racist behaviors exist in every level of God’s church. Therefore, racism and racial discrimination are lived experiences in the life of God’s church. We seek to dismantle that racism through prayer.

Related: What does the Bible say about racism?

A Spirit-led prayer movement

After the death of George Floyd in May 2020, I (Nancy) enrolled in an online class taught by Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom based on her 1 Corinthians 13 project. As I was praying about what I was learning, I was overcome with tears and convicted that if any work around antiracism was to take place, it first had to start with prayer, for “apart from the Lord we can do nothing” (John 15:5). I felt the Lord’s call towards this work. I remember conversing with the Lord through my tears and telling him that this work is going to be hard, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. But I knew that I couldn’t get out of this. In August 2020, I wrote a letter to our area pastors’ group in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and proposed starting a prayer group focusing on the work of dismantling racism. But I did not receive any reply.

At this time, I was also a part of our denomination’s pastor prayer calls on Fridays led by our general secretary, Rev. Eddy Alemán. On one call, I was sent to a breakout room with Rev. Liz Testa, director for RCA women’s transformation and leadership and equity-based hospitality. I was overwhelmed with the sense that I needed to meet with Liz. I did not know why since I did not know Liz. When we met, I shared that I had sent a proposal to our area pastors’ group with the intention of starting a prayer group around dismantling racism. It was then that Liz realized that was why we needed to meet. Building on Rev. Dr. Denise Kingdom’s work, Liz became the co-founder of the Dismantling Racism Prayer Gatherings that officially launched via Zoom in October 2020. She recruited Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards as a co-chair and asked if I would serve with him. She also invited others she knew who had a heart for this work. Now, we give God the glory for leading us for four seasons of prayer.

“When you are really in sync with the Spirit, things will happen,” says Testa. “This—an intentional, courageous community, gathering to seek God’s guidance as we process, share, and transform ourselves and the systems we are a part of—is only by God.”

What are Dismantling Racism Prayer Gatherings?

We rejoice in God’s faithfulness as we have witnessed how the Holy Spirit has moved powerfully in our bi-weekly Zoom prayer meetings these past four seasons. We meet for one hour every other Tuesday. This diverse community only exists because of the power of the Holy Spirit. We are amazed at who the Lord has brought to join us for these gatherings. We have a mixture of people of all colors attend. In the last couple of years, we had people from other denominations join us also.

Related: Is racism a discipleship issue?

We seek the Lord and ask him to lead us. We hold our schedule loosely and go where the Spirit is leading. Often, we come away humbled, amazed, and in awe of what God is doing.

We begin each gathering with these words:

“We claim this sacred virtual space as one of trust, vulnerability, humility, and unity. We acknowledge that this work is uncomfortable both personally and communally. It is not easy; it IS slow, intentional, and deeply transformational. With soft hearts, we engage this work actively, and prayerfully, following the leading of the Holy Spirit.”

Each month, we typically host a speaker who shares about their life experiences regarding issues of racism (like this sermon and story from elder Leo Poluan). We have learned so much through our guests’ stories. The Spirit has always given us direction to pray after what we heard from them. Our times of intercession are powerfully led through our gifted elder Cynthia Peters from the ROCK Church in Los Angeles, California. She ushers us into the very throne room of God as we lament, confess, and intercede for racism to be dismantled.

The planning team—Rev. Liz Testa, Rev. Jeremy Simpson, elder Cynthia Peters, elder Gerri Yoshida, Rev. Dr. Joanne VanSant, Rev. Dr. Gordon Wiersma, elder Lorraine Parker, and the two of us (Micheal and Nancy)—works to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in a focused discussion as God’s breath in our planning. We explore beneath the surface larger questions about the topic’s sensitivity and the thematic approach as we wait for God’s direction: What should our emphasis be now? Does our mission still capture what we feel called in prayer and faithful learning factors to do? Is the leadership structure effective for what is emerging now in the life of racism in the church? Can we keep lamenting and pursuing God’s call for peace, justice, love, and reconciliation this way, or will we burn ourselves out wrestling with sensitivity involving inclusivity in the body of Christ Jesus?

Related: Justice and reconciliation prayer devotions based on the Lord’s Prayer

Our team has established guiding values and principles with great clarity in governing the process of our presentation. These values demonstrate our commitment to trustworthy relationships. Values that are prayerfully fortified are a means to come together and stay together in unity as we endure difficult emotional patterns in our Christian commitment to discipleship. Prayer has always been the directive purpose of Christian gatherings.

As we look forward to what is next, we trust the Holy Spirit to guide us. It may look different next year, but one thing that will remain is the foundation of prayer.

Related: How to tune into the work of the Holy Spirit

The power of prayer to break barriers of race

Apart from the Lord, we can do nothing. All begins with prayer. For racism to be dismantled within ourselves and the systems where we belong, it begins with the transformation of the heart. This can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit. And this work begins with prayer.

It is the intention and the prayer of the planning team that the storytelling from all people of color during our gatherings highlight barriers and harmful experiences by conceptualization and application of their spiritual equity, inclusion, and justice in the life of God’s church. Through each season and in the stories even from a particular race, the Holy Spirit has unfolded more of an examination of all people of God. In this way, we dismantle racism and grow in unity together.

Related: Discerning how to be the family of God together

We have also heard testimonies from our brothers and sisters of color that the sacred space that has been created in these gatherings has been a blessing for them. Many find it a safe place to be. And for people who are from what has been a dominant white culture in North America, it has been a place to be humble and learn how we have contributed to the sin of racism.

A call to action by praying is to further investigate intercultural communication using Scriptural methodologies and sharing time to ask questions by all on how to functionally and precisely mediate reinforcement in the fight against racism in our congregations and even in our families.

Paving the way for change in the church

As a practice, our planning team encourages those who attend the virtual meetings to continue their own journey with this work of dismantling racism. At each gathering, we provide resources and opportunities for those who attend to continue their journey in this important work.

Related: Address racism one step at a time

On a broader scale, too, we have witnessed how the Spirit has moved through these gatherings and in the Reformed Church in America in the last few years. These are just some ways that these prayer gatherings have spurred further action:

  • In 2022, an antiracism policy was adopted at General Synod, the denomination’s highest level of governance. In our Dismantling Racism Prayer Gatherings, we have prayed into this policy and encouraged others to consider how they can live out this policy in their own contexts.
  • One of our leadership members, Rev. Dr. Gordon Wiersma, spurred his congregation at Hope Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, to take the antiracism policy and adopt it with modifications for their own congregation. After two years of discernment, prayer, and working diligently on this, the church recently adopted its own antiracism policy and justice statement.
  • Churches, classes (groups of churches), and even one regional synod (regional group of classes) have also adopted the denomination’s antiracism policy. Others have started groups and task forces to focus on this important antiracism work.
  • A prayer gathering participant who is a college professor recently invited her class to join us for one of our gatherings as a learning experience.
  • This year, the annual meeting of the General Synod includes antiracism training—an action that comes in response from the General Synod Council and the RCA’s Commission on Race and Ethnicity to a reported personal attack of racism at last year’s meeting.

“[This response] is a concrete example of our prayer together leading to action and implementation in dismantling racism in the Reformed Church in America,” says Gerri Yoshida, a member of the Dismantling Racism Prayer Team. “We are giving feet to the antiracism statement so that it can have an impact on our faith walk with each other. Praying together can lead to working together to bring about healing and wholeness in the body of Christ.”

Join us in dismantling racism

Check the Reformed Church in America’s Office of Diversity and Belonging webpage for upcoming prayer gatherings. We will kick off season five in the fall of 2024. In the meantime, explore this list of books and podcasts to grow in diversity, equity, and inclusion; bathe your learning in prayer and follow the Spirit’s leading!

DEI resource list
Micheal Edwards headshot
Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards

Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards was called as a minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America in 1984. He serves as the senior minister of the DeWitt Reformed Church in New York, New York, and also serves the Regional Synod of New York as executive minister. From his early life in Harlem to the present, Rev. Dr. Micheal Edwards has sought to apply his faith in Christian witness, administration, and discipleship.

Nancy Boote smiling in front of trees
Rev. Nancy Boote

Rev. Nancy Boote is co-chair of the Reformed Church in America’s Dismantling Racism Prayer Team. She is an ordained minister of Word and sacrament in the Reformed Church in America. Nancy also serves on denominational executive teams and provides mentoring for young women and those in ministry. She also writes devotions for Words of Hope. For enjoyment, she loves walking with her husband on the beach, playing with her grandchildren, traveling, writing music, being with family and friends, and taking prayer walks in nature.