2017-06-14 / Featured / Front Page

Brandermill Church hosts race relations forum


On Sunday, the Brandermill Church hosted a panel discussion on the issues of racism, poverty and social justice as part of a broader effort to embrace changing demographics in the county. 
JAMES HASKINS On Sunday, the Brandermill Church hosted a panel discussion on the issues of racism, poverty and social justice as part of a broader effort to embrace changing demographics in the county. JAMES HASKINS As part of an ongoing effort to be more inclusive and responsive to the needs of an increasingly diverse community, members of a Midlothian church are confronting the complex, often uncomfortable issues of racism, poverty and social justice.

The Brandermill Church hosted a panel discussion Sunday evening featuring representatives from two nonprofit groups and two multicultural churches that perform a variety of community outreach activities in greater Richmond.

Margaret Kutz, a retired United Methodist Church pastor, served as moderator for the 90-minute forum.

The seven panelists included Leroy Jefferson and Rudy Green from Embrace Richmond, a nonprofit that provides community development training for churches, civic groups and governmental organizations, as well as Janie Walker, who serves as co-pastoral director for Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian retreat located in Church Hill.

Larry Cochran and Marie Coone represented Belmont United Methodist Church, a diverse congregation located just north of Chippenham Parkway on Richmond’s Southside.

Lucretia McCulley and Mary Sue Donahue came from Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Richmond.

The panelists discussed their respective outreach efforts, presented their perspectives on social justice issues and offered advice for forging meaningful connections with diverse populations.

“Pretending racism doesn’t exist is not a solution,” Coone said. “In 2017, unfortunately we still don’t have a colorblind society. If you’re really committed to making change, you have to get out of your comfort zone and go out into the community to understand what is happening there.”

On six consecutive Wednesday nights during Lent, The Brandermill Church offered a course titled “Conversations on Racism.”

The opening session challenged participants to acknowledge their own racism. Subsequent classes addressed white privilege, ongoing racial strife in America and criminal justice issues within the black community.

“I graduated from college 50 years ago. This is what we were dealing with then and we’re still talking about it today,” said Dolly Pakurar, who is white, and who led the course. “If we’re going to grow as a nation, we can’t keep dumping on people because their skin looks different than ours.”

Kutz admitted the church has been “a little slow to react” to recent demographic shifts within Brandermill, Chesterfield County and the Richmond region.

“There’s an ‘ouch’ when you realize your thoughts, beliefs and attitudes haven’t really produced a welcoming community,” said Kutz, who is white. “But you can’t give up when it hurts. You work through it and come out the other side better for the experience.”

After they completed the course, many church members felt compelled to act on what they had learned. They formed a steering committee, Together for Change, to explore ways the church can become more diverse and assume a more significant role in tackling socioeconomic issues throughout the metro area.

Sunday’s panel discussion was the first of many steps in that process.

“I never dreamed we’d have an event like this,” added Jim Duncan, senior pastor of The Brandermill Church for the past 11 months. “I have no idea what the spirit will lead us to do next, but our people really do want to be in community with others.”

Both Belmont UMC and Second Presbyterian have seen their congregations become much more ethnically diverse as a direct result of community outreach; many people who initially come for the food pantry or other programs go on to become regulars at Sunday church services.

While Green said the best resource any community has is its people, Jefferson cautioned that successful outreach requires a commitment deeper than simply dropping off money, food or other goods, then heading back to the suburbs.

“It’s about building relationships,” he said. “It has to be a ‘we’ thing. If you give people something without having a relationship, they’ll look at you as an outsider and that might hurt more than help.” ¦

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