Cortland Church seeks diverse representation

Article by the Rev. Peter Williams and Dr. Regina Grantham, respectively rector and member of Grace & Holy Spirit Church in Cortland. The authors are active on the diocesan Antiracism team.

Our congregation in Cortland is working to be a more diverse community of faith.

We have heard that church demographic experts are saying most mainline Protestant congregations will be gone in 20 years. We know most of us are older, and we wish to see what we can do to connect with younger, non-churchy people.

One thing we have decided to do is to hang portraits of diverse world heroes on our sanctuary walls. Why are we doing this? We started thinking. We need to change. We need to make changes. We need to learn. We need to open our hearts and connect our history, our past with our future.

The world is not all white like our church windows.

Grace and Holy Spirit Church in Cortland started a journey to learn about the past and provide a foundation for change. Beginning the month of June, we started putting up portraits of great and holy heroes of diverse ethnic back-grounds. Why? The world is not all white like our church windows. The world is a mosaic consisting of many people who have made numerous contributions to make this world better place. Our first portrait was of Martin Luther King. Over the next year and a half, we will have many other images displayed, including Handsome Lake of the Seneca tribe, Mahatma Ghandi, and many more portraits on the walls.

Rosemary Vail, a member of Grace and Holy Spirit Church in Cortland, created this quilted banner depicting a dark-skinned Jesus.

We are also very proud of a new banner of Jesus with darker skin hanging behind the pulpit. We are grateful to church member Rosemary Vail for that. We also have a picture of Jesus with diverse children of the world hanging on the wall in the back of the sanctuary.

We are also interested in reaching out into the community to welcome people to be good neighbors to all, and to invite those who wish to join our church family. We recently had many of our church members attend the first Juneteenth celebration in Cortland. We encouraged them to participate in this via our weekly newsletter, The Weekly Tweet.

This was a good thing to do to connect with others… and it was absolutely the right thing for us to do. We are working on a building a Diversity and Inclusion Team in our congregation, which will be aligned with the Learning Communities Initiative group we have in the parish. We agree with the Episcopal Diocese of CNY that this is important stuff.

Cortland is becoming more diverse every year. While we do have four people of color in the congregation, which is pretty good for Cortland churches, we realize we need to do a lot more.

But that is true for most mainline congregations these days. We need to work for the future church, even if we are older. We have been a blended Episcopal and ELCA (Lutheran) congregation for nearly a decade now, and that is another reminder that we cannot just stay the same. We need to try new things, to build a better future for all of the Church.

We encourage other parishes to join us in this effort!

Showing 4 comments
  • kate didonato

    nicely done! We do have a pretty cool parish!

  • Barbara Bell

    I hope “diversity” will include portraits of women of color! I suggest Indira Gandhi, Maya Angelou, Kamala Harris and Michelle Obama, to start. Angela Merkel and Golda Meir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Burke White, and so on.

  • Terry Langdon

    Ditto the above: to include portraits of women of color and other women

  • Regina B. Grantham

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. This has been such a wonderful educational process. We as a church family/community are researching and studying the lives of those who have made contributions to making this world better, provided foundations for us and for me as a person of color on whose backs and shoulders I am standing. Our study of each life lasts for at least a month and the information is presented during the announcement time and again in writing in our weekly communication. It is fascinating to see each other through the eyes of various cultures. It is an ongoing process that I personally see lasting beyond 18 months. There is so much we don’t know but need to know and want to know. Although we only mentioned men in the article, women are included.

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