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Vermonters on Sacred Ground

In mid-January, six members of the Diocese of Alabama and seven members of the Diocese of Vermont began a Sacred Ground circle on Zoom. Sacred Ground, an educational series about race, is a program of Becoming Beloved Community, the Episcopal Church’s long-term initiative on racial healing, reconciliation, and justice.

The group was convened by Amy Hastings, a member of St. Stephen’s, Middlebury who recently moved to Alabama and came up with the idea for the two dioceses to partner on Sacred Ground.

“I’m giving thanks for Zoom,” Hastings says. “It has opened us up to things we couldn’t really imagine if we hadn’t learned this technology and seen it as a way to build communities across borders.”

Hastings, who first completed Sacred Ground with a group from St. Stephen’s, Middlebury a year ago, has found value in going through the curriculum again alongside people she has just met. “It’s been both a scary prospect but also, so far, just wonderful to watch the group begin to know one another,” she says. “When you bring together a circle in your own church, you know everybody. But when you bring a group with more geographical diversity, you get out of that level of familiarity that comes with the people you already know, and you can go deeper in different ways.”

Hastings hopes this model of shared Sacred Ground circles across more than one diocese catches on, noting the value of including perspectives from different parts of the country when discussing the history of systemic racism in the United States. “I do hope that this is going to be just one more way that this dialogue expands,” she says.

Several Sacred Ground facilitators in the diocese are available to help congregations get started with their own circles. Denise Noble, a member of St. James Essex Junction and the diocesan Anti-Racism Action team, was called to become a facilitator when she completed the program for the first time.

“I was just floored by how much I didn’t know, how much I never knew, and how much I was never taught in schools,” she says. “My history was completely whitewashed and taught from the perspective of white supremacy, and I began to understand what holding white privilege meant for me.”

The Rev. Earl Kooperkamp, rector of Good Shepherd, Barre and member of the Anti-Racism Action team, had a similar experience. “I participated and was just blown away by it,” he says. “Two or three sessions into it, I was reflecting and realized I had attended my first anti-racism training 50 years ago, and I thought, this is powerful — I’m still learning new things.”

Both Noble and Kooperkamp acknowledge that the Sacred Ground curriculum can seem daunting. “What I said to my group is it does not matter what you have done or not done coming into each session,” Noble says. “Even if you have just had time to see part of a video, you are still going to learn by attending these sessions. It’s the ‘sharing from the heart’ piece that’s more important than the ‘academic’ piece.”

Congregations wanting to start their own Sacred Ground circles can contact Canon Walter Brownridge to learn more and be connected with a Sacred Ground facilitator.

“I think everybody who holds white privilege should be doing this. Everyone,” Noble says. “A woman in one of my groups was in her 90s, and she was so impacted by this and so open to learning. If it’s not too late for her, it’s not too late for anyone.”

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