First and Last
For John Helps, the online Power and Privilege learning circle this January and February was the last theme learning circle in his diaconal ministries program. For Hyerim Park, on the other hand, it was her first.
“Hyerim, I look forward to checking in with you in three or four years’ time, when you’re where I am now, to see what it’s like for you,” said John on the last day of the six-week, twelve-session circle.
Different perspectives are a vital part of CCS learning circles. Besides John and Hyerim, the Power and Privilege circle had participants who were in the middle of their diaconal program, as well as an Anglican priest who graduated from CCS thirty-five years ago and an ordained United Church minister who works in the regional governance of the church, both taking the circle as continuing studies. Each participant brought their own background and experience to the discussion.
For Hyerim, Power and Privilege felt like a good place to start her education for diaconal ministry. She was particularly interested in social justice, and brought her experiences as a woman, a recent immigrant from Korea, a person of colour, a LGBTQ+ person, and a Christian to the conversation. She came expecting to learn about the historical background and reality of the invisible power and social systems that exist throughout society and within the church, hoping this would provide her with deeper understanding and some practical solutions.
Hyerim noticed the variety of worship styles offered by students at the beginning of each session, as well as the varied educational methods used by program staff to engage ideas about social analysis, systemic power, social location, and empowerment. She found the book study and discussion of Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which ran throughout the course, particularly useful, as it helped her learn about “white people’s understanding of racism.”
“I was able to freely talk about the various forms of racism that I have experienced while living in Canada,” she said, noting that she was the only person of color in the class. “I felt there was a gap between what I saw and what the rest of the students felt. However, we respected each other’s opinions and differences, and we felt grateful that we were friends who, although different, were working and growing in the grace of God to be better people and better leaders. And we are not struggling alone, but supporting each other, for God’s gospel and justice, through CCS.”
Learning concepts about power and privilege allowed Hyerim to take a critical view of society and church. “Ignorance is power,” Hyerim noted. “It is a privilege to be ignorant of people who don’t have what we have. I think our society will take a step forward when we try to learn a little bit about situations that are just accepted as natural, about invisible class and discrimination. Not just as an individual effort, but in schools, homes, workplaces, public institutions, and churches.”
Hyerim has only been in Canada a year and English in not her native language, so at times she found discussion difficult to follow, but she feels that the support and consideration of staff and other participants helped with the barriers of language and cultural references. “I feel privileged to learn this content and meet good people here, and I look forward to growing up as a person with good influence in this school, my church and this society.”