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Widen the Circle: A Call to Beloved Community

By Cheryl A. Hemmerle
July-August 2015


The people of The United Methodist Church are called to engage in honest dialogue and respectful conversation about racism and xenophobia, seek justice for all and build the beloved community. This guide offers steps toward answering the call. Use it in an on-going class or to organize a small study group, lead a workshop or preach a sermon series.

Each session is designed to last 45-60 minutes. At the end of the guide are resources to use to extend them. All resources are posted online and may be downloaded from If you are unable to access or download them, please call 615-742-5107 or email

The General Commission on Religion and Race produced many of the resources. Among the other producers are the General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Communications, The Upper Room and the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

Preparing to Lead the Sessions

Before each session, review the session outline and read the resources. Make notes and highlight key talking points. Visit to access session resources. Download, print, and prepare session activities. Write key points, definitions, and discussion questions on newsprint and display. Place chairs in a circle. Pray for God’s presence and guidance.

To begin each session, welcome everyone. Encourage brief personal introductions. Share an overview of the study. Review Guidelines for Keeping Communication Respectful. Introduce the session topic.

To end each session, stand in a circle and join hands. Remind everyone this is just the start. Ending racism, effecting change, and building the beloved community take time and constant individual and collective work. Encourage everyone to continue the conversations, explore racism more deeply, challenge their personal assumptions and prejudices, and pray for God’s presence and guidance each day. Thank everyone for taking these important steps and being a part of the change we seek in ourselves, in our congregation, in our community, and in the world. Say, “Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.” Pass the peace.

Session 1: Recognize Our Brokenness

Opening Prayer: Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that, as the Scriptures are read and your Word proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.1

Read 1 John 4:19-21. What is the key message of this Scripture? How does it relate to our topic?

Distribute Name That Feeling, and lead the activity. Discuss: What connections do you see between race and identity? How much does race define or determine who you are, who others are, how you see others and how others see you?

Read the Council of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Racism. Repeat the definitions of racism and xenophobia from the letter. What is happening in our country to call us to action?

Select several statements from Racism Is …. After reading each, ask: How might this statement support racism or xenophobia? As people of faith, how do we respond?

Read the letter from Council of Bishops President Warner Brown Jr. What role should The United Methodist Church play in challenging and seeking an end to racism? What role do you play in ending racism?

Distribute page one of the Personal Assessment Reflection Quiz. Ask participants to read and consider their responses. Make a commitment to review it daily.

Closing Litany

Reader 1: O God, we confess that the sin of racial hatred and prejudice distorts your divine plan for our human lives. You created us in divine likeness, diverse and beautiful. In every person, every race is your image.

All: But too often, we fail to recognize your image in all. Forgive us.

Reader 2: You created us in divine freedom, to be free. In every decision, every choice is your possibility of justice.

All: But too often, we fail to choose to advocate for your justice for all. Forgive us.

Reader 3: You created us for divine abundance, to tend and share. In every garden, every social structure is your seed of community.

All: But too often, we fail to create that community which includes all, and gives to all equal access to your abundant life. Forgive us.

Reader 4: Open our eyes to distinguish good from evil. Open our hearts to desire good over evil. Strengthen our wills to choose good over evil,

All: So that we may create among us your beloved community.2

To expand Session 1, consider these resources and activities:

Read “On Jubilee, Advent and Injustice” from Alive Now. Use this as another way to start the conversation about racism and xenophobia.

Watch a video interview with Bishop Warner Brown Jr.

Read and discuss Rights of Racial and Ethnic Groups from The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church.

Session 2: Love Our Neighbors

Opening Prayer: Silently now, we wait for you; ready, our God, your word to hear. Open our ears, illumine us, Spirit divine.3

Read Luke 10:25-37. Whom do you tend to identify with in this story? Where else might you be positioned in this story? What would it mean to think about ourselves in different roles?

Distribute self-adhesive nametags with a name on each: Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Ask participants to wear the name tags. What do you know about the person whose name you received? If people do not know, share the profile from Thy will be done: Coping after police custody deaths.

Distribute Reflecting on Race, and ask participants to complete it. What patterns do you see in your responses? What does this mean for our work to end racism and xenophobia, seek justice for all and build the beloved community?

Read Thy will be done: Coping after police custody deaths. What role does power play in racism? Where is the church? How can the church bring justice?

Distribute Page 2 of the Personal Assessment Reflection Quiz. Ask participants to read and consider their responses. Make a commitment to review it daily.

Closing Litany

Reader 1: O God, we confess our day-to-day failure,

All: To be truly a good neighbor.

Reader 2: O God, we confess we fail to love extravagantly because we do not fully understand what loving means,

All: And because we are afraid of risking ourselves.

Reader 3: O God, we cut ourselves off from those in our communities and around the world,

All: And we erect barriers of division.

Reader 4: O God, we confess that by silence and ill-considered word,

All: We have built walls of prejudice.

Reader 5: O God, we confess we have sought our own security first,

All: And blamed others for their struggle for security.

Reader 6: O God, we confess we have denied the pain of racism, even when it confronts us.

All: Holy Spirit, speak to us. Help us hear your words of forgiveness. Come fill this moment and show us the path of the Samaritan. Amen.4

To expand Session 2, consider these resources and activities

Read and discuss Global Racism and Xenophobia from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church.

Read and discuss Letter from Birmingham Jail by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Read or watch and discuss Bishop Woodie White’s “Letter to Martin” 2015.


Session 3: Welcome All People

Opening Prayer: O Lord, open our eyes that we may see the needs of others. Open our ears that we may hear their cries. Open our hearts so others need not be without comfort 5

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. What does this Scripture say about diversity? How do you recognize and celebrate diversity? How can we create space in our church to welcome all members of the body?

Lead the activity Diversity Training: What We Do Not See. Discuss this definition of inclusiveness: The nature or quality of including various types or subgroups of people in the decisions, actions, and expressions of an aggregate group. In other words, inclusiveness is being diverse not just in presence but in participation.

Read God Bless the Whole World. No Exceptions! What does inclusiveness mean to you? How can it transform any group that decides to be truly inclusive? What keeps us from building relationships with groups in the community who are not part of the church?

Distribute Radical Welcome Defined. Assign pairs to read and discuss one bolded word. Based on your discussion, how can we be a radically welcoming community?

Distribute 25 Things Your Congregation Can Do to Affirm Diversity and Challenge Racism. Ask participants to identify one item to consider. List the items on newsprint and commit to doing one together.

Closing Litany

Reader 1: O Lord, you created us as equal,

All: Yet we have treated one another unjustly.

Reader 2: You created us in your holy image.

All: Yet we have failed to recognize the dignity and sacredness of your image in every person.

Reader 3: Some of the old wounds of injustices are still bleeding, and the callousness of our scars prevent us from being as sensitive to others as we ought to be.

All: Forgive and heal us, O God.

Reader 4: Help us listen to those to whom injustices have been done

All: Until we hear your cry in theirs and feel your pain in theirs.

Reader 5: As new, tender skin emerges from under old scars,

All: Create in us a new humanity through the brokenness of our experiences.

Reader 6: That we may celebrate together the dignity and sacredness of humanity in one another for the sake of your glory.

All: For the sake of your glory. Amen.6

To expand Session 3, consider these resources and activities

Read White Privilege in the United States from The Book of Resolutions. Use the Discussion Questions on White Privilege to dig deeper.

Read and discuss So You Think You’re an Anti-Racist?

Read and make a commitment to Responsibilities to Eradicate Racism from The Book of Resolutions.


Session 4: Build the Beloved Community

Opening Prayer: God of mercy, grant that the Word you speak this day may take root in our hearts, and bear fruit to your honor and glory. Amen.7

Read Isaiah 58: 1-12. Who are the oppressed in Isaiah’s time, in our time? What does it mean to let the oppressed go free? What are the yokes that need to be broken in our community, our nation?

Read together the excerpt from I Have a Dream. What is your dream for our community? What would you like to see change? What would success look like?

Read together Police chaplain: We all live in same world. What is required for reconciliation to be true? What acts of justice are required to achieve true reconciliation (e.g. judgment of sin and admission of guilt, restitution, reparation, remorse, restoration, etc.)?

Distribute and complete Congregational Self-Assessment and discuss the questions. Use the Multicultural, Multiracial Glossary as needed to define terms.

Closing Litany

All: We believe:

Reader 1: God is the creator of all people and all are God’s children in one family.

Reader 2: Racism is a rejection of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Reader 3: Racism denies the redemption and reconciliation of Jesus Christ.

Reader 4: Racism robs all human beings of their wholeness and is used as a justification for social, economic and political exploitation

Reader 5: We must declare before God and before one another that we have sinned against our sisters and brothers of other races in thought, word and deed.

Reader 6: In our common humanity in creation, all women and men are made in God’s image, and all persons are equally valuable in the sight of God.

Reader 7: Our strength lies in our racial and cultural diversity and we must work toward a world in which each person’s value is respected and nurtured.

Reader 8: Our struggle for justice must be based on new attitudes, new understandings and new relationships and must be reflected in the laws, policies, structures and practices of both church and state.

All: We commit ourselves as individuals and as a community to follow Jesus Christ in word and in deed and to struggle for the rights and the self-determination of every person and group persons.8


To expand Session 4,, consider these resources and activities

Read and discuss Charter for Racial Justice Policies from The Book of Resolutions.

Read and make a commitment to Conversation toward Action Circles.

Read and consider a plan for Building the Beloved Community (Monitoring): Reframing and Redesigning the Church’s Approach to Institutional Equity.


End Notes

The study title is inspired by “Who Is My Mother, Who Is My Brother,” The Faith We Sing (Abingdon Press, 2000) 2225.

1 The United Methodist Book of Worship (The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992) 34.

2 Adapted from Prayer of Confession for Racial Justice Sunday by the Rev. Susan A. Blain, United Church of Christ.

3 Adapted from “Open My Eyes That I May See,” The United Methodist Hymnal (The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989) 454

4 Adapted from “Prayers of Confession, Assurance and Pardon,” The United Methodist Hymnal 893.

5 Adapted from “For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal 456.

6Adapted from Ceremonies III: A Collection of Worship Resources for United Methodist Women (Women’s Division, the General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church, 1996).

7 Adapted from Book of Common Worship Daily Prayer (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993) 14.

8 Adapted from “A Charter for Racial Justice Policies in an Interdependent Global Community,” The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (The United Methodist Publishing House, 2012).

Additional Resources

General Commission on Religion and Race

Peace with Justice, General Board of Church and Society

United Methodist Seek Racial Justice, Methodist Communications

“Moving Faith Communities to Fruitful Conversations about Race,” Rethink Church/United Methodist Communications

“Charter for Racial Justice Tools for Leaders,” United Methodist Women