Race, Reconciliation and Hope

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St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, MA
In pilgrimage to St. Martin’s Anglican Church in Bergvliet, a suburb of Capetown, South Africa

Everyone grappled with the challenges of replacing “justified” anger with forgiveness and hope. Most of us still left South Africa…with the challenge of learning how to do it.

Twenty-seven members of the St. John’s congregation in Hingham, MA embarked on a year-long introduction and experience of South Africa past and present culminating with a 10-day in-country experience designed to create a context for enhanced spiritual growth and knowledge for the group.  Over the past year, the inter-generational group of pilgrims had a series of preparatory experiences to prepare them for the ten-day in country ministry. Between March and January 2016, the group participated in a series of lectures that introduced them both to pre-apartheid; apartheid and contemporary post-apartheid South Africa.  The group completed a reading list and developed a set of “critical questions” that would serve as the “lenses” for their personal in-country experiences. 

It is not coincidental that even given this painful and traumatic past, South Africa represents a crucial way station on one’s spiritual journey.  With the spiritual guidance of Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa learned early that only true spiritual repentance and reconciliation would lead to health and survival of the nation.  How do you forgive and embrace your enemy and oppressor?  How do you transform hate into love?  How do you assuage national guilt to birth a socially equitable and just nation?  How do you grapple with the injustice of economic disparity?  The South African experience is transformational.   In South Africa, one learns that transformation is an on-going process and, if embraced completely, is a spiritual way station filled with questions, growth and hope.  The entire South Africa Ministry experience, including the in-country experience is designed to have both the participants and the whole congregation place themselves in the wider global community and to understand the global meaning of hope and faith.

Post-trip Reflection on the questions “How has this pilgrimage changed you and each of your participants?  What do you/they see differently?”

The group had two post-trip seminars to wrap up their South Africa experience and process.  As we conducted our post trip seminar discussions, some key “lessons” and reflections expressed by group members included:

  • A reassessment of their privilege against the backdrop of the South African poverty they witnessed.
  • A reassessment of what constitutes lie’s “big and little” issues.  Most of the youth said what they saw as “big issues” paled in comparison to the “big issues” they saw their Black and Colored counterparts in South Africa confront on a daily basis.
  • Everyone spoke of a new sense of the Grace and Blessings that define their lives.
  • Everyone had a more realistic sense of the oppression of poverty in a contemporary global community where poverty need not be inevitable.
  • Everyone grappled with the challenges of replacing “justified” anger with forgiveness and hope.  Most of us still left South Africa with the question: How do they do it?  But also with the challenge of learning how to do it.
  • Everyone left South Africa with a better understanding of how it must feel on a daily basis to be different. As one St John’s adult member noted, ”I was not sure how it would feel to be a White person riding and walking through a Black Township; how I would be treated.”  Many heads nodded at the comment.  Yet, all also noted how warmly and graciously the group was welcomed.  As comment, more than one youth member questioned whether youth visitors from South Africa would be treated as warmly at Hingham High school as they were welcomed – the inference in the statement was, “No.” or would the differences observed in the South African youth create barriers to authentic warmth and welcome at their school.
  • At our group Eucharist “in the bush” and in our post-trip seminars, to the person, everyone remarked that they had been “changed by the experience”; that they could not see themselves, Hingham, the US, poverty and wealth, Christian faith and hope…in the same way.  All were transformed personally and spiritually.
  • The spirit in the group post-trip and whole South Africa experience seemed to be – “I have to do something to make a difference rather than just be.”
  • For our youth group, the changes were profound and dramatic.  They started the seminar experience in small “friendship” groups in the room and came back a spiritually and personally cohesive “whole”.  The youth seemed to deepen their notion of reflection – on self, their lives in Hingham and their Christian purpose.  There are intergenerational connections as well as peer relationships that are evident weekly in the church and that will last a life time.