Creating Inclusive Communities: Circle Discussion

alicia-profile-pic Getting to know Alicia Crosby and participate in the workshop “Creating Inclusive Communities,” which she co-led, were among the most wonderful experiences I had at the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference.

At the pre-conference weconnect Women’s Retreat, I connected with Alicia and learned about her amazing work in the world. Alicia co-founded, with Jason Bilbrey, the Center for Inclusivity (CFI). The mission of the Center is “to foster healing communities among people of all faiths, genders and sexual orientations with an ethic of inclusion that is locally embodied, sacredly held and widely replicable.”

In my conversations with Alicia at the Women’s Retreat, I was impressed by her passions for justice, activism, and community engagement. I resonated with her clear articulation of the intersectionality of justice issues. Grounded in her theology of the sacredness of all persons, Alicia sees the connection between all “issues” and “isms.” Inclusivity and justice do not come by focusing on a single issue, but by bringing justice issues together in relationship. For example, economic inequality does not stand alone, but is closely connected to heterosexism, racism, sexism, and other injustices. Alicia told me about how she works through the Center for Inclusivity to live out her values by uplifting the marginalized, amplifying minority voices, and advocating for equality for all. The Center not only participates in annual justice events like Transgender Day of Remembrance, Black History Month, and World AIDS Day, but creates a culture of equality throughout the year.

Alicia@2xThe workshop, “Creating Inclusive Communities,” which Alicia co-led with Jason Bilbrey, modeled the inclusivity they advocated. Every voice at the workshop was heard and valued. At the beginning of the workshop, Alicia and Jason asked a question I’d never been asked before: “What pronouns do you want used in reference to you?” They went around the room asking all participants to state three things about ourselves: our names, where we’re from, and pronouns (e.g. “she,” “he,” “they,” whatever) we’d like used to refer to us.

Then Alicia and Jason asked us to form circles for reflection on questions such as these: What is inclusivity? What does it look like? What does it feel like? What’s the most inclusive community you’re ever been part of? What made it that way? What did you find most challenging? What did you learn? What kind of diversity was represented? Who was left out?

In the circle I took part in, I experienced inclusive community as well as learning about creating inclusive communities. Our small circle was inclusive in race, gender, sexual orientation, and age. It was a rich experience to connect with these wise, caring people and to learn together from our experiences of inclusion and exclusion.

When we came back together in the large group at the workshop, Alicia and Jason took turns asking for people to report from our circles. Also, they shared their wisdom on creating safe inclusive communities, emphasizing that growing together in communities with diverse people may not always feel comfortable, but they must be places where people feel safe to bring their true selves. People need to be recognize how unconscious racial prejudice and how homophobia manifests in communities. Those who begin the communities need to make a way and then get out of the way so that others participate in the ministries.

Currently pursuing an M.A. in Social Justice at Loyola University Chicago, Alicia also fulfills her call to justice and inclusivity through her writing and through her participation in Christian Feminism Today. Recently Alicia published an article on Patheos titled “Fast of Embodied Solidarity,” in which she laments the treatment a Wheaton College professor received when she took a stand for justice. Here is an excerpt from her article: “I, like many of you, have been following the situation between Wheaton College and Dr. Larycia Hawkins – the professor reprimanded by college administrators for wearing a hijab in a Facebook photo and quoting Pope Francis that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. I feel that Wheaton’s mistreatment of Dr. Hawkins reveals realities of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and other ways in which the Christian faith has become complicit in oppression and dishonoring the humanity and imago dei present in others. That said, I am choosing to stand in #EmbodiedSolidarity with others who are tired of the(ir) Christian witness being used to subjugate others instead of inspiring healing and #TrueReconciliation.”

Through the prophetic, reconciling ministry of Alicia Crosby, Sophia Wisdom lives and works in the world.


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