Radical Racial Reconciliation Through Small Groups
Image: Helen M. Bushe/Flickr

Radical Racial Reconciliation Through Small Groups

How NewStory Church created a safe place to discuss the hot topic of race

Rich and Dori Gorman co-pastor NewStory Church in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. The diverse congregation has made a big impact on the neighborhood through their intentional work in racial reconciliation, mental health justice, creation care, and Friends of Swift, a non-profit organization they started to invest in the elementary school the church meets in.

The Edgewater community informs the ministry of NewStory, especially around the topic of racial reconciliation. Over 60 nations are represented in the local elementary school, and according to City-Data.com, nearly 25 percent of Edgewater residents were born outside the U.S. With this kind of diversity present in their neighborhood, the Gormans knew that racial reconciliation had to be central to the church's mission. This mission led to starting small groups dedicated to the topic of racial reconciliation. Offering one racial reconciliation group per semester, NewStory has now offered five different groups and seen amazing results.

I talked with Rich Gorman by phone to hear more about the church's commitment to racial reconciliation and how their racial reconciliation small groups are going.

Amy Jackson: Why is racial reconciliation so important to NewStory Church?

Rich Gorman: There are two primary reasons. The first is it's a biblical mandate, and the gospel demands it. We are called, as we're reconciled to God, to be reconciled to one another across all the things that divide us. So we see a number of different glaring divisions that are facing us today—race being a primary one, but also gender, age, socioeconomic, and geographic. We feel like one of the compelling parts of the gospel is that Christ eradicates those divisions, or at least calls us to step into a process of eradicating them.

The second reason is that our neighborhood is radically diverse. We've got people from countries all over the place. For us, racial reconciliation is not a theory, and it's not something that's distant; it's something that stares us right in the face every single day. So just from a standpoint of practicality, we are forced to engage in it in a tangible, real life kind of way.

How does NewStory engage racial reconciliation?

When you look at being a multiethnic and reconciling church, you have to look at all the different layers of who you are as a church. It can't be pocketed in one area or another—it really needs to be threaded throughout everything you are. So we do a number of different things. On Sundays we talk about it a lot. We talk about race, we talk about culture, and we work to develop a robust theology of culture to understand how God uses cultures for his glory. Our worship service reflects this through song choices and the diverse voices of people singing and speaking. All of this is very intentional.

Our leadership is also very diverse, and that's really where the rubber meets the road. You can have a diverse congregation and even have a diverse worship service, but unless your leadership is diverse it's not fully what it can be. The hard issues that have to be dealt with need to be dealt with at the leadership table so everything else can flow out more naturally. As a staff, we strive to be diverse. We feel like it's part of our identity as a church, so it's really important.

Tell me about how this works out in small groups.

First of all, we knew the best way to start was to start small and start slow with just one group, one small conversation. We didn't want it to be a program because that hurts people. Second, we wanted to let the people who aren't white lead. This is a kingdom thing—you flip the world of privilege on its head. They get to set the ground rules. And you gain immediate credibility if the non-white people are leading it.

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