Reflections on the Atlanta Conversations by Ms. Pamela Nolan Young

I, Pamela Nolan Young, of Holy Trinity in South Bend, Indiana, and the Reverend T.J. Freeman of Trinity, Fort Wayne, Indiana joined more than 85 priests and lay Episcopal members at a conference on racial reconciliation convened by the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing in March.  The attendance numbers required the event take place at two larger churches in Midtown Atlanta. The opening night dinner and reception were held at St. Luke's Episcopal Church.  All Saints was host to the discussion the following day. 

The Center under the direction of Dr. Catherine Meeks, is charged with assisting the wider church with tools and resources that allow the Episcopal Church and other faith communities to engage in the work of dismantling racism through education, dialogue, pilgrimage, spiritual formation, and prayer.  The participants gathered to share what they were doing in their respective dioceses and explore ways we can work together. Father Freeman and I joined in group discussions that identified strengths, best practices, and opportunities as well as challenges.  The groups documented their conversations. Those summaries will be further refined at the Center for distribution to the wider church.  All participants were asked to visit the Center's web page to complete an online form that will become a searchable database.

I was honored to represent the diocese and was delighted to meet others committed to this work as Dr. Meeks states this is the work of salvation.  I am employed by the University of Notre Dame as the Director of Academic Diversity and Inclusion  My role at the university is to assist it with its efforts to be a welcoming and inclusive community.  This trip enabled me to mix business with pleasure.  The connections with other participants will enhance the work I do at Notre Dame and enable me to assist our diocese. I was particularly pleased to learn about the best practices that others had shared. I was proud to be able to share some of the practices from our Diocese such as the Soup after School program at Holy Trinity and the hiring of the Adrien Niyongabo to work on Community Asset Building.  

I am an African American woman who was born in the south.  I can recall KKK marches near my grandparents' hometown in North Alabama. My life history is punctuated with positive and negative stories about race: a great uncle who was killed for interracial dating; entering first grade as one of three African Americans to integrate Girard Elementary School; and a friendship with a Caucasian classmate that extended into junior high school when her parents bravely allowed her to attend a sleepover at my house. I was raised Baptist but converted and was confirmed an Episcopalian in my early thirties.  I was drawn to the Episcopal church not because it had all the answers, but because it seemed to be asking the right questions.  My church at the time of my confirmation was Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst, Massachusetts.  I recall vividly look up into the pulpit and seeing a variety of races, ages, and genders among our priests and deacons and thinking this is what God's people are supposed to look like.

I can think of no greater task for the church to tackle than that of racial reconciliation. Our nation's ability to so easily adopt policies that pit us as humans against other humans based on difference is in my opinion ungodly.  So I am thrilled to be a part of the local and national conversation in our church and I truly believe our efforts will bear fruit.  I know this work is not easy, it is difficult and uncomfortable but oh how sweet the reward.

As Bishop Desmond Tutu said "Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? " 

- Pamela Nolan Young