By the Rev. John Borthwick, minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Guelph, Ont.

Glenn Singleton invites educators to have courageous conversations about race by embracing “four agreements”:

  • Stay engaged
  • Experience discomfort
  • Speak your truth
  • Expect and accept non-closure

As a white, resourced, cis-gendered, married, Christian man, discomfort is something that my privilege has protected me from all my life. My privilege, even as— maybe especially as—a minister who offers leadership to a church community, allows me choices. I can choose to speak out. I can choose not to speak out. I can decide IF my congregation will hear from their minister on the issue of systemic racism. Or I can decide to ignore it. And as a privileged minister who serves a predominantly privileged community, I would likely receive significant support to do just that—ignore it for the sake of not “getting political” or causing “discomfort” or making “good people” feel bad. I will confess that I struggled too long. Justice was knocking, and I was hoping someone else would answer the door. Then I discovered Justice Ministries’ resource, Speaking Out Against Racism and Hate in Canada , and was grateful that our denomination provided an avenue to help me speak out on this important issue in our congregations.

I could have just invited our congregation to simply read the study guide on their own. But I had, like so many of my colleagues, a few months of Zoom video conferencing under my belt. So, I decided to use the study guide as a script and record a five-part series. Since it was virtual, I could add bonus material to encourage those who were interested to learn more as I was learning myself. It was important for me to be able to highlight, as the study guide does so well, the reality of racism and hate in Canada. It is too easy for us to simply say it is an American problem. In addition, I wanted to ensure that the study would stimulate further thinking related to such realities existing in the church. With my bonus material, I was able to expose those who journeyed with me to people like Glenn Singleton, Jay Smooth, Robyn Maynard and Desmond Cole. A short five-part series on racism and hate is limited in its impact, but the feedback from those who did participate was very positive and certainly achieved my personal goal of encouraging individuals to begin, or continue, their journey towards better understanding systemic racism.

Our gifts to Presbyterians Sharing shine through at times like these. I didn’t have the words or the headspace to design a study guide for my congregation on the complex topic of systemic racism in Canada. (There is a global pandemic going on, you know.) It is vitally important in our society today for our communities to engage in the issues raised in Speaking Out Against Racism and Hate in Canada.

This Fall, we are going to discuss the next study guide, Why Work to Decolonize? An Interim Study Guide Engaging the National Inquiry’s Final Report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls . This time we will host it via Zoom and invite interested members of the congregation to share in the conversation. As I’m learning, anti-racism work isn’t a check box—it is a commitment to staying engaged, living with discomfort, speaking your truth and expecting and accepting non-closure. It is a journey and actions that we who are privileged must choose to take for the sake of leaving our world better than we found it.

Click here to check out St. Andrew’s Guelph’s video series on Speaking Out Against Racism and Hate in Canada