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  • Jul18Sun

    Pondering Privilege

    A preamble to Rev. Prema Samuel's Sermon on Mark 6:30-34 July 18, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
    Filed Under:
    Pr. Sebastian

    Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before.
    I’m stepping aside in the pulpit to let a Woman of Colour speak.
    I wanted to share a little of my reasoning why this small symbolic virtual gesture is so important.

    About 7 years ago, I attended a workshop on intercultural ministry which really opened my eyes to many issues regarding systemic racism.
    I learned how normal patterns of systems naturally favour white men to dominate conversations, and assume leadership positions,
    whether they are entitled to or not.
    This got me to start thinking about how I myself act in various situations.

    In 2018, at the last in-person Synod Assembly,
    there was a workshop on racism and privilege that was challenging for most participants, and I’d like to share my experience.

    After hearing a roundtable discussion on racism in the church,
    we were each handed a sheet of paper with a whole list of questions we were asked to fill out.

    For each question we answered yes to,
    we were supposed to subtract 5 points from our original score of 100.
    Some of the questions were:
    -Are you a woman? Subtract 5 points.
    -Were you poor growing up? Subtract 5 points.
    -Were you born in a third-world country?
    -Do you identify as LGBTQ?
    -Have you struggled with major health issues?
    -Is your mother tongue something other than English?
    -Are you a racialized minority?
    -Did you suffer abuse as a child?
    etc.
    The idea of this exercise was to help us think concretely how we experienced privileges in our lives, or the lack of privilege.

    Around the large convention hall,
    there were numbers between 0 and 100 posted up,
    in intervals of 5.
    So, 5,10, 15 on posters etc.
    Once the time was up, we were sent to stand by the number sign which corresponded to our final score.
    Needless to say, I stood beside the number 95.
    I was there with a good male colleague friend of mine and two other white men, in the 40-50 age category who all looked like quote
    “prime leadership material”.
    At first, I nervously laughed as I realized I was at the top,
    and that there were so few of us, from a total of 250 delegates.
    I joked to my friend facetiously that “we did pretty well on this test”.
    Then I looked around.
    The vast majority of delegates were crowded around the 60-70 mark.
    They were socializing and seeming to have a good time.
    Then I looked further down the line, and at the 20 and 30 mark,
    I saw two clergy persons of Colour, all alone.
    One of them was in tears.
    Someone came to console her.
    I wanted to do something,
    but our instructions had been to stand by our numbers, so I did.
    I felt uncomfortable.

    It really made me realize, that in our Lutheran system,
    as a white male pastor in his 40s,
    with a wife and children, I have immense privilege.
    And on the other hand, two of my colleagues, whom I admire,
    are literally at the bottom of the pack,
    their qualifications and experience notwithstanding.

    This past month, I have again pondered my privilege,
    and what I can do about it.
    Obviously I love my job at a prestigious mid-sized church with an established radio programme that reaches hundreds on a Sunday.
    But with that privilege comes responsibility.
    I could just play it safe and hoard my privilege to myself,
    or I could make myself more vulnerable and take some risks,
    potentially take some flak by standing up a little for those people who rate lower on the privilege scale: women, LGBT, People of Colour,
    because they have to endure harassment and discrimination on a scale that I never have had to experience.
    Even talking to my wife Carey opens my eyes to some of the cringeworthy comments and sexism she has to endure as female clergy,
    that would never happen to me.

    So I’ve taken it to heart, when possible, to stay quiet a bit, as a white male, and to leave room for others to speak,
    that is, to amplify BIPOC voices,
    not to speak for them, but to let them speak for themselves.

    We have such an opportunity today with Rev. Prema Samuel,
    one of two BIPOC Assistants to the Bishop in the ELCIC.
    Prema was born to Rev. Dr. Prasanna Kumari Samuel
    and Rev. Dr. Samuel Wilson Meshack at Bangalore, India
    and was baptized at the Trinity Lutheran Church, Kolar Gold Fields, India, where her father served as pastor for several years.
    She was ordained in 2012 and has been serving at the Alberta Synod office since 2019.

    She preaches today on our Gospel reading.

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