What do the National Basketball Association, the Grammy Awards, and many workplaces in America have in common? At the Juneteenth/Father’s Day service on June 20, the Confirmation Class at Church of the Atonement in Tenafly reported to the congregation that these are three of many sectors of society where systemic racism has damaged lives in the past and continues to do so.
During the pandemic, the 2021 class – Phoebe, Anotida and Devon, met online with their teachers Carol Petrovich and Bryon Roshong every Sunday, via Zoom. The class covered many standard areas, including The Bible, The Book of Common Prayer, The Episcopal Church, and relationships. The Confirmands discussed what they would do for their Confirmation projects. Before the pandemic, each Confirmand would have had an individual project, working with a mentor from the congregation. But 2020-2021 was like no other year, so a joint Confirmation project seemed best.
One Sunday, the lesson was focused on I John 4:7-16. The teens discussed what it meant to love one another, to love everyone. The subject of racism came up, but not surprisingly the discussion ran out of time. So, in the next week’s class the subject continued, and the teachers talked about Presiding Bishop Curry’s call for us to walk in love as Jesus did.
Phoebe, Devon and Ano reflected on this call and decided to work together on their own definition of systemic racism, which was included in the bulletin when they made their presentations.
Each Confirmand began their project by interviewing an adult member of the congregation about their experiences of racism. Then they chose an area of society in which to do research. Phoebe chose the entertainment industry, specifically the Grammy awards. Devon chose professional sports, examining the NBA. Ano chose the business world, looking at hiring and firing practices, promotions, and compensation.
On Sunday, June 20, in place of the sermon, each teen gave their PowerPoint presentation to the congregation, including facts and figures, and a Bible reference. After much applause, the service continued with the Renewal of Baptismal Vows, special prayers, the Sending of the 2020 Confirmands Zach and John, recognition of Graduates, and Holy Communion. The congregation recessed out of the church singing, “We shall overcome.” Then the congregation enjoyed hearing Atonement’s choir sing together for the first time since the pandemic began over a year before.