Taking the First Steps toward Becoming an Anti-Racist Congregation

Jun 9, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Reverend Dr. Yolanda Denson-Byers

I am the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Becker, Minnesota. Becker is a small community of almost 5000 individuals, of whom only approximately 150 identify as persons of color. As a female, Black, and queer pastor in this space, I recognize that my very existence is a teaching opportunity.

As I have been navigating how to introduce conversations about race in America, both in my own congregation, and in my town, I have come to believe that a necessary starting point is teaching nonviolent communication (NVC) and civil discourse.

This may come as a surprise to many, who know of my belief in the “fierce urgency of now,” as well as my deep lamentation regarding race relations in America. If I had the power to snap my fingers and fast-forward the process of awakening hearts, I certainly would. 

However, it is my steadfast belief that most European-Americans are ill prepared to participate in dialogue regarding white supremacy, white fragility, American policing, criminal justice reform, nor even the sinfulness of racism, before learning how to talk about hard things in general, through civil discourse and nonviolent communication.

To this end, for the last year and a half, I have been laying the groundwork for more specific and intense dialogue regarding racism through the intentional teaching of NVC. Together, we read, and embraced as common culture, the principles found in the book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD. This book was taught to the church council, to children, to youth, and adults, in classrooms and from the pulpit. It is a rare active member of my congregation who does not know—and cannot recite—the four steps of NVC (e.g., I notice; I feel; I need; Will you please?).

Having this common language has created space for me to provide an open-door policy, to both adults and children who wish to discuss race in America. I also intentionally preach and teach on the same.

In addition, using NVC as a starting point, a tiny group of individuals within our congregation began a Facebook reading group entitled Racial Equity Discussion and Deeds, also known as REDD. They have met online for the last year due to COVID restrictions.

Together, this little band of white folx has been working hard to educate themselves regarding racism in our country. They read anti-racism books, discuss them with authenticity and vulnerability, and then intentionally act towards greater justice within our community.

Most recently they had the privilege of reading and discussing A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota by Sun Yung Shin and White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. They also hosted a multicultural stories time for the children of our church and surrounding communities. Upon completion of this effort, they gave each child in attendance several books to take home, as well as providing this same literature to all of the local churches in our community, with the hope that they would install them in their own libraries.

While these initial efforts at FLC have not yet led to my congregation holding protest signs, or even advocating publicly for necessary changes in our country, we have begun to awaken hearts, and encourage difficult conversations, within our own families and town. We are encouraging our membership to “be the change [they] want to see” and to allow that transformation to begin inside of their own hearts and homes.

For those who are in the earliest stages of becoming actively anti-racist individuals, and congregations, it is my prayer that the toddling steps of our journey will carve a path for you to follow. We humbly admit that we have not yet arrived at our desired destination, yet we are proud that we have courageously set out upon the journey. It is our most fervent prayer that you will consider joining us as we seek to love all of our neighbors, as ourselves.

Topics: Adults Ministry, race, racism

Reverend Dr. Yolanda Denson-Byers

Written by Reverend Dr. Yolanda Denson-Byers

The Reverend Dr. Yolanda Denson-Byers serves as the pastor of Faith Lutheran Church (FLC) in Becker, Minnesota. She is a missional pastor with a heart for social justice and the beloved community. To learn more about FLC visit https://www.facebook.com/Faithlutheranstrong/.


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