First UMC Denton Wraps Up Year Of Self-Examination

Racial JusticeCombating Racism Task Force making recommendations after examining congregation’s response to racial justice

This is part of an ongoing series of stories focused on the pilot churches for the Congregational Journey Toward Racial Justice. Dr. Karen Anderson-Lain is the chair of First UMC Denton’s Combating Racism Task Force.

In October 2020, the administrative board at First UMC Denton established the Combating Racism Task Force in response to a growing awareness of racial injustices and a deep need felt by multiple congregational members to respond as a faith community.

Rev. Jonathan Perry, executive pastor FUMC Denton, and Dr. Karen Anderson-Lain, lay leader and professor at University of North Texas, were chosen to recruit task force members and examine the congregation’s response to racial justice. They also were asked to help plan a path forward that incorporated racial justice as a part of the worship and programming within the church and social action within the greater Denton community.

As the task force was being formed, the North Texas Conference was establishing the Congregational Journey for Racial Justice (CJRJ). The goals of the program were a natural fit for what FUMC Denton had started and provided support, resources and a community of fellow travelers on the journey.

The FUMC task force, nearing the end of its yearlong appointment, was determined not to wait until we made final recommendations to put our faith into action. Our mission is to lead the church in developing and living out an intentionally anti-racism identity in all aspects of church life. We organized ourselves into three committees to accomplish this mission.

  • Internal Review
  • Spiritual Growth and Anti-Racism Programming
  • Community Partnerships and Advocacy

“Being part of the Congregational Journey Toward Racial Justice cohort gave our congregation opportunity to reflect on our present, our past and the future God is calling us toward," Rev. Perry said. "There were moments of celebration and moments of repentance, but most of all moments of commitment to be a church working toward and for the calling God has for us all: to embrace the freedom and power God gives us to resist the forces of evil, oppression, and injustice in our world, in our systems, and in ourselves. In this case, that means growing toward an antiracist posture in our practice and our parish.”

Internal Review

Our internal review committee aligns with the “assess your congregation” step of the CJRJ. It was tasked with conducting a review of policies, identity documents, worship services and governance of FUMC Denton. The committee conducted an in-depth analysis of articles of incorporation, by-laws, personnel manuals, onboarding process for personnel, church archives and local historical context. 

Based on the review, the committee proposed recommendations for the Staff Parish Relations Committee  to require staff training on implicit bias, cultural competency and cultural humility. Recommendations were also made to SPRC to develop a regularly scheduled internal ministry evaluation, critique, and goal setting toward becoming intentionally anti-racist, and more culturally competent and humble as a congregation.

Finally, the internal review team gathered a historical perspective about our congregation’s response, and at times a lack thereof, to historical events as they related to racial injustice in the Denton community. Some of the highlights were revealed through personal interviews during the “God Dreams” sermon series about the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship. The committee is considering developing an online interactive program to share more of the historical context.

Spiritual Growth and Anti-Racism Programming

This committee’s goals aligned with the “transformational work” stage of the CJRJ. The committee examined the religious education and membership development curricula, developed program resources and examined Sunday School and small group programming. 

Based upon their review the programming committee created a resource page which provides updated events related to combating racism, links to relevant video content from FUMC Denton, reading resources, video resources and podcasts.

In January and February 2022, we are holding a four-part series on Combating Racism lead by Associate Pastor David Finley that addresses issues of system racism; structures, privileges and implicit bias; cultural competency; and how to be an ally.

Additionally, the group prepared a list of combating racism bible studies for Sunday Schools and small groups as well as church-wide options. The first of these studies, based on a series of articles from Sojourners magazine, was offered in Fall 2021.

This committee was excited to note that a racial justice focus was already occurring within various groups within the congregation including a book club that focuses on black authors and regular anti-racist programming options from United Methodist Women. The group is currently exploring where in the church structure to provide ongoing support of programs across more Sunday Schools and small groups by updating resources and providing guest teachers.

Community Partnerships and Advocacy

As our discussions about how to reach out to the community unfolded, it became clear that developing relationships with other community partners will be a long-term task. While we have discussed that individual members of our congregation have strong ties to diverse racial communities, these ties are not being shared across our congregation. The key recommendation from this committee is that these partnerships need to be developed over time, allowing the partnerships to develop organically through intentional choices to emphasize and encourage community interactions.

"I’m blessed to be in a church family that has heard the call to work for racial justice in our own congregation and beyond," said Cynthia Rives, a member of the task force.  "Last year, in response to the many reports of racial injustice across the country there was an eagerness at FUMC Denton to 'do something' and do it in a way that we could 'Do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God.' We have gotten a good start, but we’ll need to continually strengthen ourselves for the journey that will bring us to racial justice for all."

Published: Thursday, January 20, 2022