A Brunswick church is working to expand conversations on race in the broader community, a discussion that continues to receive legislative pushbacks.

“There was this feeling among the people at St. Paul’s (Episcopal Church) that the work was important for everyone in the community. It needed to be accessible to people who are not Christians,” said Andrea Lauerman, coordinator for Sacred Grounds Program in Brunswick. “My role has been to adapt the curriculum to be inter-faith, so the program does not explicitly come from anyone’s religious tradition. Rather, people can bring whatever calls them.”

The Episcopal church launched the Sacred Ground Program to create a comfortable space for people to hold dialogue on race and racism in America and analyze its impact on people of color.

Since the development of the program in 2019, the organization has extended its reach to individuals outside of their religious group. In the beginning, they were exclusively conducting the program in-house with three circles and 60 members within their church community. Now, six all-community circles are running, with 51 people.

Each session opens with deep breathing, poetry or meditation. Groups are often broken up into pairs to stimulate further discussions on race while facilitators observe. In the end, there is a prompt to get people to reflect on what they learned during the session.

“This curriculum is a way for us to educate people and help them understand the history of racism in our nation. It is often not taught in public schools or other settings,” Rev. Katie Holicky, assistant director for family and youth at St. Paul’s, said.

“Meaningful conversations about race are challenging for people to have. Sacred Ground allows people to dive into this issue and look at it from many different perspectives in a safe and caring environment where they are supported,” said Linda Ashe-Ford, a trainer and member of the Brunswick Sacred Ground Program. “We have a narrow understanding of what it means to be a person of color in this country and what our history is. I am guilty of not understanding that history as much as everybody else because I grew up in the school system. However, the difference is that I did some research and found out information that I never learned in school. Information that explained the truth of our history, and it was an incredibly empowering experience.”

A survey conducted by the National Episcopal Church highlighted that 61% of the people of color participants found the program incredibly impactful, 21% were neutral, and 18% found that the program was not impactful. Additionally, 66% of White people found the program very impactful, 26% remain neutral, and 8% found the program not impactful at a national level.

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