“I grew up near Newark, New Jersey, and I never knew how racist my parents were until the race riots occurred,” says Carol Martin. “My mother was terrified.”

That experience combined with her friendship with a young African-American colleague at North Park University in Chicago led Carol to take the Sacred Ground program offered by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick. “I needed to learn the history that I hadn’t learned earlier while being in a safe space to talk about issues related to race.”

The Sacred Ground program, launched by the Episcopal Church nationally in 2019, is designed to make it easier for people to have meaningful conversations about race and racial disparities in our society. As the national Church web site notes, “The 10-part series is built around a powerful curriculum of documentary films and readings that focus on Indigenous, Black, Latino and Asian/Pacific American histories as they intersect with European-American histories.”

Sacred Ground groups are composed of 8-10 participants led by two facilitators. They meet once every three weeks for 90 minutes.

Examples of films include “We Shall Remain,” a PBS special about interactions between the first European settlers and Native Americans in the Massachusetts region; “The Black Atlantic,” a PBS special about rhe slave trade from 1500 to 1800; and “Foreigners in Their Own Land,” PBS specials about Latino-Americans and Asian Americans.

Examples of readings include “Jesus and the Disinherited,” by Howard Thurman, and “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving.


St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has heartily embraced the program, having sponsored six groups of participants. Moreover, St. Paul’s has adapted the program to be suitable for folks of all faiths (or no particular faith) and hired a coordinator to oversee the program and open it up to the greater midcoast community.

Andrea Lauerman, the Sacred Ground coordinator, says, “All of us are living with the pain of racial disparities This program is designed to help people process their feelings and understand systems and structures.”

Lauerman also notes that St. Paul’s is the first church nationally to try to bring the program into the greater community.

Ellen Ryan, another member of St. Paul’s, says it was eye-opening to learn how systemic racism has been designed to keep the disenfranchised in place. “The films were very moving,” she says, “I was literally bawling at times.” Ryan and some other members of her Sacred Ground group have continued meeting monthly, even though their program has ended.

Jan DeBlieu, Junior Warden at St Paul’s, lived on the Outer Banks in North Carolina before moving to Maine. While in North Carolina, she tutored Latino students. “I could see the fear in their eyes when they were told that ‘ISIS is coming for you.’” DeBlieu chose to participate in Sacred Ground because, she says, “I wanted to work in favor of a more just society.”

Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s and a member of the Racial Justice Council of the Diocese of Maine, says “Sacred Ground helps white folks do white work. It helps us take our blinders off and be our full selves.”

The expanded Sacred Ground program at St. Paul’s has been funded by the generosity of parishioner Caroline Russell. “I inherited money from my dad, and I wanted to do something that would leave a lasting legacy. After I took the Sacred Ground course, I knew that this was something I should support. It’s been phenomenal to see the program grow. After all, how often in life do you get to make a lasting difference while you’re still alive?”

For more information, go to www.stpaulsmaine.org and click on the “Learning” header.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. dtreadwe575@aol.com.

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