In October, PIIN launched Sacred Conversations on Race + Action, a series of congregation-based discussions designed to provide a safe space to discuss race and racism in our country and in our communities. Since then, members at eleven congregations have reflected on their own past experiences and challenged one another to expand their own levels of personal awareness.

Sacred Conversations kicked off with an all-congregational overview of the series, as well as an introduction to structural racism, implicit bias, and privilege. Since launching, participating congregations have hosted several structured conversations that have fostered an open dialogue amongst participants regarding perceptions of race, experiences with racism, and awareness of structural racism in our society. The conversations provide participants with opportunities to share and discuss as a large group, as well as “fish bowl” style conversations where people of color and whites have separate conversations while the other group listens.

Peter Gilmore, a facilitator at St. James Roman Catholic and 1st Unitarian Church says he sees “the beginnings of a transformation” when he evaluates the entirety of the conversational series. “These conversations have created both an awareness, and a level of hunger for answers and for action. What I’ve experienced repeatedly is people coming out of these conversations really hungry for action and real change.”

Eleven congregations have completed the Sacred Conversations series so far, including: 1st Unitarian, 6th Presbyterian, Allegheny Unitarian, Calvary Episcopal, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, St. Charles Lwanga Roman Catholic, St. James Roman Catholic, Temple Sinai, Union Baptist, and Unitarian Universalist of the North Hills and the South Hills.

“This series has been full of surprises for people,” said Gilmore. “Everyone attends with good intentions and with some self-awareness and knowledge, but the enormity of the differences in perceptions and lifestyles dictated by a racist society often take people by surprise. Particularly for white congregations, it’s a wakeup call to the degree to which white people are complicit. I’m not naïve enough to say that we’ve resolved systemic racism, but we have sowed the seeds of transformation.”