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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Forgive us, we pray’: Black and white clergy meet in Spokane to repent for ignoring racism

Attendees at the “Count Us In: Beyond Words Spokane” lay prone Friday in the parking lot of Bethel AME Church during a Prayer of Confession by Rev. Katy Shedlock of West Central Abby and Highland Park UMC.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Friday at 6 p.m. marked four months to the hour of George Floyd’s death in police custody. To mark it, a group of more than 60 gathered outside Bethel AME Church as Spokane-based Christian clergy spoke about racism.

Racism, “is the American sin,” Rev. Tom Lamanna, from St. Aloysius Catholic Church, said at the event. “Written into law. A compromise about what defines human beings.”

He pointed to 1619, the year the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown Colony, often seen as the beginning of slavery in America.

Rev. Bishop Gretchen Rehberg, a white woman, said the Episcopal Church began in England and many Episcopal churches in America were built by slaves. As a white Episcopal bishop, Rehberg described herself as “a direct inheritor of colonialism.”

She said it was not enough to speak about racism. Instead, Christians need to actively oppose white supremacy.

“It is not a problem for our African American community,” Rehberg said. “It is our problem. We created it.”

Handed out at the event, the group signed “Commitment cards” listing their names, churches and contact information. By signing, they promised to build a relationship with a Black Christian leader, “practice reparations” by investing in Spokane’s Black community, study “the sin of racism,” promote anti-racism, and organize for systemic change in Spokane.

An announcement for the event promised clergy would make a “public statement of repentance for failure to engage systemic racism.”

Rev. Katy Shedlock, also white, led a 6-minute prayer of confession followed by 3 minutes of silence to recognize the amount of time then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck.

The prayer involved a long list of confessions she believed applied to white Christians in Spokane. Those confessions included allowing churches to be “quietly inhospitable” for people of color, not learning or teaching the history of racism in America and ignoring racism until the pandemic cleared calendars.

“We have cared more about damaged property than damage to people. We have burdened our Black and Brown brothers and sisters with taking care of our feelings of discomfort,” Shedlock said as the group kneeled. “Forgive us, we pray.”

In silence, many laid flat on their chests as 20 mph gusts of wind passed. From their view, the sky to the right of the church was a deepening gray as the left side showed an opening of clouds touched by gold. Around 7 p.m., lightning struck.

“Well, He is here,” Elder Ezra Kinlow, representing Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, said as his notes flew from the lectern.

“Racism is sin,” Kinlow said in his speech. “It is not to sit comfortably in the pews of a Christian church.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated on September 26 to correctly spell the name of Rev. Bishop Gretchen Rehberg. An earlier version gave an incorrect spelling for her last name.