Race Relations Celebrates 50 Years
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Office of Race Relations. However, with the pandemic in full effect, there was limited opportunity to gather as a community and recognize this significant milestone.
As COVID-19 restrictions gradually relaxed, the Inspire 2022 event in suburban Chicago provided the perfect opportunity to commemorate the work and blessings of God through Race Relations over the past five decades. So on Aug. 3, at a pre-conference event before Inspire began, over 70 people gathered at the Tinley Park (Ill.) Convention Center for the long-awaited celebration.
Adding to the significance of this gathering was that events in the Chicago area had been a flashpoint in the development of the Office of Race Relations. Back in 1971 the synod of the Christian Reformed Church established the Synodical Committee on Race Relations (SCORR) in part as a response to Timothy Christian School’s refusal to admit black students from nearby Lawndale CRC in Cicero, Ill., in the late 1960s. SCORR eventually became a standing committee in 1981, appointed its first director in 1986, and officially became known as the Office of Race Relations in 1995.
Rev. Mark Stephenson opened the 50th-anniversary dinner by sharing some of this history. He concluded by saying, “The work of antiracism is not just for one ministry or for the people of color in our denomination. It’s part of the gospel call for all of us.” Stephenson mentioned that while there is a lot to celebrate from the past 50 years, much work still needs to be done.
After a moving worship time led by the worship team from Pullman CRC in Chicago, Pastor Gary Foster of Pullman spoke from Acts 2:14-21 on “The Body of Christ: Diverse, Global, and Prophetic.” He explained that just as the apostles were dismissed as being drunk on that Pentecost day in Acts, many people still dismiss the work of racial reconciliation today: “Healthy race relations means calling the church to repent of siding with those making unjust and immoral and inhumane policies. But the good news is that the Holy Spirit’s work prevails.”
Rev. Reggie Smith, director of the CRCNA Office of Diversity, followed Foster’s message by introducing 12 nominees for the Dante Venegas award. These active people in the CRC had been chosen on the basis of their contributions and leadership in recognizing the image of God in every person and in clarifying the sinful reality of racism in the church and in their local communities. The Dante Venegas award was presented to two of these nominees at a special ceremony later in the week.
To begin the meal, Richard Silversmith, a Navajo pastor from Denver, and his wife, Susie, gave thanks and asked for God’s blessing. And during the dinner, people were encouraged to share their stories of hopes and tears from the past 50 years of antiracism advocacy and racial reconciliation in the CRC, citing progress made and struggles that developed along the way.
Teresa Jones was one of many who told their story. She grew up in Chicago, she said, and has worked in various capacities in the CRC offices in Grand Rapids, Mich., for over 35 years. “It’s God, it’s all God – even through the course of moving me from Race Relations, to World Renew, to building reception, and now to Human Resources – it’s all been God,” said Jones.
The celebratory evening concluded with 50th-anniversary cake for dessert, some closing worship songs, and a litany led by race relations advocates from the Canadian offices of the CRCNA. Shannon Perez and Rev. Pablo Kim Sun shared the moving responsive reading that ended with everyone saying, in unison, “Until the vision of Revelation 7:9 is fully embodied in our churches, Lord, help us to continually support the work of racial reconciliation.”