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  • Rev. Barbara Ballenger

Rector’s Note: Exploring our Whiteness Workshop at St. Peter’s Sept. 23.-9.7.23

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

I became co-chair of the diocesan Anti-Racism Commission (ARC) in early March of 2020. At the first meeting I had to discuss the work of the group, our phones all went off with the same message: parishes were encouraged to shut down because of the rise in COVID cases. The pandemic officially began. Then, on May 25 George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis, and millions of people took to the streets to protest racial injustices.


The diocesan effort to combat anti-racism has never been the same. From that point on, the desire for information on racial justice and repair boomed, and we learned how to offer trainings on Zoom and to meet an increased demand in attendance, with lay people far exceeding clergy in our online classes. Three-and- a-half years later the desire among Episcopalians to do something meaningful to undo the effects of racism is still high. After each zoom training, there is always a request to learn more, to do more, to create change that is meaningful and lasting. And while that change has been slow, I continue to be encouraged by the people that stay with this important and soulful work.


One of the most important things that I have learned in this period of hard lessons, is that for White people, the work to end racial injustice requires internal work as well as external action. It means understanding our own stories of racial formation, and the forces that formed the system that we benefit from, whether we like it or not. A Zoom training or a book group is a start, but there is always a need, even a pull, to go deeper, to understand who we are in the racial reality that is at hand.


That’s why I’m so excited about the new in-person workshops that ARC is offering this fall under the theme Telling our Stories Healing the Wounds of Racism, Building Beloved Community. These sessions, two of which will be targeted to different racial affinity groups to create safe spaces to share, will use the medium of Playback Theatre to invite audiences to tell personal stories of racism and repair in a way that promotes healing and transformation.


The first session, Exploring our Whiteness, will be held here at St. Peter’s on Saturday Sept. 23 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. This workshop is for an all-White audience to share stories of learning, enacting and resisting racist beliefs and behaviors.

Using theater and discussion, participants will see themselves in one another’s stories of race and racism as they are brought to life on stage by members of Playback for Change, a Philadelphia-based theater company that facilitates racial understanding using the improvisational theater form Playback Theatre.


Several years ago, when I was on staff at St. Martin-in-the-Fields down the road, Playback for Change offered a similar program in our worship space. Members of the audience were asked to think of stories of their own experiences of racism. The skilled facilitators drew out a few from the audience, and then the theatrical ensemble “played it back” using improvisational theater.


The effect of hearing and then seeing an audience member’s personal story shared in this way was different than any I had ever experienced. I was not only hearing a story but seeing it in a way that allowed me to visualize myself in it. This unique theatrical form dissolved the boundaries that I tend to put around other people’s stories and my own. I understood myself better as a result. The skilled facilitators of Playback for Change made sure that we were not simply consuming the story as an audience, but were really reflecting on the impacts and lessons of our experiences. The goal: to enact change based on self-understanding and new awareness.


That is what we can expect on Sept. 23 when White people like myself gather for the Exploring our Whiteness session.


The following workshops are:


Telling the Whole Story, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sat. Oct. 14, 2023 at St. George - St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (520 S 61st St. in Philadelphia), which is for an audience that self-identifies as Black, Brown, or as a Person of Color to share stories of healing, community building, and honoring unique racial identities.


Creating Common Cause, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sat. Nov. 18, 2023 at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (8000 St. Martin's Lane, Chestnut Hill), which is for an audience of all racial identities to share their stories of resisting and healing from racism. The goal: to work together in solidarity to dismantle systemic racism.


Each session costs $15 for individuals and $50 for groups of five or more. Financial assistance is available. Since St. Peter’s is hosting, I would welcome any volunteers who would like to assist with the reception afterward. Please contact me at stpeter654rector@gmail.com.


You can learn more about all three programs including descriptions and registration information here.

Please share the word about these unique experiences. Find the ones that best match your identity and experience and plan to come. I would love to know what you thought of the experiences.


I envision these sessions as a start to a deeper conversation about racial repair and healing at St. Peter’s through the rest of the year.




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1 Comment


sam hogg
sam hogg
Sep 08, 2023

pls. count me in.

sam hogg

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