Collected and written by Aisha S. Taylor, updated through May 2007
Within the context of our mission to create a renewed priestly ministry, the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) has generally had combating racism within its scope. WOC members have occasionally brought up the issue of racism and WOC leadership has initiated different forms of work in racial and ethnic diversity throughout its 30-year herstory. However, WOC has not addressed racism in a sustained, systematic, and intentional way.
The recent dedication to anti-oppression work came after the Young Feminist Network (YFN) Mexico Retreat held in Cuernavaca in 2001. Carmen Lane, Principal of The Lane-Leota Group and a self-described black Catholic lesbian feminist, brought up the dynamics of race, sexuality and privilege that played out during the event, which initiated a further discussion among the retreat participants. Lane’s comments also inspired then-Program Director, Joy Barnes, and then-Board Member, Theresa Trujillo, to call for a commitment to anti-oppression work based on their experiences in Cuernavaca during their presentation at the Fall 2001 Board of Directors meeting. At the same meeting, then-Board Member Joanne Bray gave a presentation on white privilege and identity. As a result of this meeting, Barnes participated a three weekend anti-racism training conducted by The Leaven Center in Fall 2001.
In 2003, WOC received a two-year grant for $5000 to support addressing race, poverty, and gender from the SC Ministry Foundation (Sisters of Charity). The grant paid for the development of a presentation about the how a renewed priestly ministry included addressing the issues of anti-racism, which Executive Director, Barnes presented at the CTA Conference in 2004. It also covered the expenses of two local events that addressed issues of diversity, in Southeastern Pennsylvania in Spring 2003 during the Ida Raming tour, and in Chicago during Summer 2004.
At the Winter 2003 Board meeting, Board member Carmen Lane facilitated a session on the intersections of oppression, and she related the issue of women's ordination to the global issue of violence against women. She also suggested WOC develop a stance on reproductive rights and consider attending the March for Women's Lives in order to network, expand membership, find additional allies, build relationships with other women's organizations, and connect the issue of women's ordination to other experiences of womanhood that are at risk.
The Board continued periodic conversations about anti-racism during meetings, and, in May 2004, decided to set aside specific blocks of time at every Board meeting to discuss strategies to make WOC anti-racist, diverse and inclusive. Also during the May 2004 Board meeting, Barnes proposed that the Board seriously consider the effects of racism, which are often unrecognized, particularly as it impacts how the Board functions and relates with people of color. Barnes suggested commissioning a diversity expert to present a training session to the Board, and the board approved $1,500 to spend in the summer of 2004. At this same meeting, the resignation of Carmen Lane was announced. Lane cited the dynamics of race as a major reason for resignation, as well as the lack of Board action after her presentations in Winter 2003.
Barnes, and Board President, Evelyn Hunt, began initial conversations with a consultant; however, the costs were dramatically more expensive than budgeted, so the money was not spent and the decision was made to use staff resources instead.
In September 2004, WOC hired Program Director, Aisha Taylor, with experience in anti-racism and diversity training to continue developing WOC's anti-oppression initiative.
In preparation for the November 2004 Board meeting, Taylor and Barnes met with Steven Jones, CEO of Jones & Associates Consulting, Inc., an organizational change and diversity consulting firm, to discuss WOC’s anti-oppression and anti-racism work. Using advice from this conversation, Barnes and Taylor facilitated a discussion about WOC’s diversity work at the November 2004 Board meeting. During this discussion, the Board decided to use the term “anti-oppression” and acknowledged that our society is a “kyriarchy,” a term Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza coined to describe the complex interweaving of oppressions. However, the Board decided to begin the anti-oppression work with a focus on dismantling racism within WOC’s structure due to the recent resignations of two women of color from the Board (Lane and Thereas Trujillo) and the fact that WOC’s membership and leadership has been predominantly and disproportionately white for 30 years.
In 2005, Taylor participated in ten full days of anti-racism training through Call to Action’s Anti-Racism Team (CTA ART) as a WOC representative. Taylor served as leader of the Strategic Planning Committee, and she wrote the first draft of the strategic plan. Taylor’s participation on CTA ART provided skills in organizing and strategic planning that aided in creating a proposal for WOC’s plan of action to address racism in a sustained, systematic, and intentional way.
In February 2006, the WOC Board approved the plan of action to incorporate anti-racism, diversity and inclusion in WOC. The plan laid out a vision and strategy for the initiative, mandated two full-day trainings for the Board and Staff, and approved the formation of an anti-racism team. The plan introduced a phased approach to guide the Board, Staff and the anti-racism team. In May 2006, the Board participated in the first day of anti-racism training, and Taylor, as Executive Director, planned and facilitated the training. Throughout 2006, Taylor continued to participate in the CTA ART, learning more about anti-racism and how WOC’s team could operate.
In February 2007, the Board discussed an article written by Myra Brown that Taylor has asked her to write for inclusion in a resource manual for women considering ordination. During the discussion, the Board decided to read the pastoral letter by Bishop Hughes of New Orleans that addressed racial justice in the church post-Hurricane Katrina. The Board decided to read the letter, discuss it online and send a public letter to Bishop Hughes in response. In May 2007, the Board and Staff participated in a full-day anti-racism training with Cynthia Burton, a consultant from Jones and Associates, Inc, a diversity and organizational change consulting firm.
In September 2007, Taylor developed an orientation for the new Board members to be introduced to the initiative, so that the training the Board had participated in would be passed on. As a part of the orientation, new Board members received a packet of resources. During that Board meeting, Deva Kyle, an African American lawyer and queer feminist activist, and Taylor facilitated a session that enabled the Board to agree on a common understanding and definition of institutional racism. The Board also agreed to watch a DVD called “White Privilege 101” and to read Jacquelyn Grant’s 1989 book White Women’s Christ, Black Women’s Jesus. Laura Singer and Bray, who returned to the Board at that meeting, signed up for the anti-racism team.
With the two full days of anti-racism training for the Board and Staff complete, the design of the team is currently being developed.