How the church can ‘SURJ’

How the church can ‘SURJ’ March 23, 2016

Recently, in my alter ego work as director of Portland Abbey Arts,  I have become acquainted with the Portland, Oregon chapter of ‘SURJ.’

SURJ PDX is a Portland based group focused on educating, organizing and mobilizing white people to work for racial justice.’ 

I had never heard of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) prior, but online I discovered it is a national organization with local chapters in cities across the nation. On the ground here in ‘PDX,’ I have become a collaborator with SURJ, PDX, and one of their core leaders, Asher Freeman.

I thrilled to discover that such an organization existed, as the struggle for racial justice in the United States will continue to spin its wheels until white people begin to engage ‘full, conscious and active’ participation in the movement for racial justice.

I am also a member of the ‘Commission to End Racism’ of the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon. The goal of the Commission to End Racism is to ‘educate people so that they become more aware of the divisiveness (sin) of racism and are able to confront it.’

It has been a very interesting experience being associated with both groups. In short, I believe there is much the mainline church can learn from groups like SURJ and their methodology for effecting change on the ground in ways that matter.

A little background. My ‘day job’ is serving as the only African American priest with a parish call in the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon, as Vicar of St Andrew and All Souls Episcopal Church in Portland, the ‘whitest city in America.’ Portland is becoming know as as ‘white persons playground,’ as it is portrayed on the TV show ‘Portlandia.’ The show is a comedy. Often friends ask me if I watch it. My answer is ‘no, I don’t. I live here.’ There is no need to watch a comedic version of a lived reality that is not comedic when viewed from the perspectives of non white Portlanders.

I named this blog ‘A Vicar in Portlandia’ with the tag line ‘channeling Portland,’ because the two are not the same. I believe non church groups like SURJ PDX, evidence the capacity to do what decades of Antiracism work within the mainline church has yet to achieve, to make a qualitative and quantifiable difference for racial justice ‘on the ground.’


The recent election of Michael Curry, an African American, as presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is heartening. There is now new momentum for the Episcopal Church to ‘SURJ,’ with racial justice being a named priority for the Episcopal Church in the current triennium.

In a series of posts, I will give my two cents about how this named priority can become incarnate on the ground. In my view, mainline denominations have made a high art form out of studying ‘issues’. The our renewing commitment to the Jesus Movement and learning from others outside the world of the church can help us as we seek to move ‘beyond the library’ and into an intentional process of church and societal change through intentional, active, and local engagement i.e., ‘showing up’ for racial justice ‘on the ground.’



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