The genesis of the Canadian Ecumenical Anti-Racism Network (CEARN) can be found in 2001, part of a Canadian response to the United Nations World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, that year.
At that major conference, the Canadian church delegates resolved to act on some of the recommendations to the churches made by an ecumenical caucus. The first of these recommendations was “to educate church members, and to be educated, on crimes of racism and racial discrimination and the role of the churches”.
Fall 2001: Information sessions were held in Canada under the umbrella of the Human Rights Committee of The Canadian Council of Churches. Several other ecumenical agencies also participated, including the Women’s Interchurch Council of Canada. The delegates shared what they had learned about the impact of racism and related issues on groups such as Indigenous people, migrants and refugees, Africans and African descendants, and women.
March 2002: 40 anti-racism educators, staff and volunteers in the churches from across Canada gathered to share their experiences and to come to a better understanding of racism in Canada in order to ground their thinking and work more solidly in theological reflection.
One proposal made at the national event led to the establishment of the Canadian Ecumenical Anti-Racism Network (CEARN) that was eventually housed within The Canadian Council of Churches’ Justice and Peace Commission. One of the main objectives for developing CEARN was to create resources for anti-racism education, and anti-racism strategies within our churches and ecumenical bodies.
A Steering Committee of representatives from churches and church coalitions met to provide vision and leadership and to plan programs, including building a national network, hosting a training event in 2002 and holding an Anti-Racism Consultation in 2003.
Caucus Groups: Recognizing the need for personal development, education, and reflection on the part of its membership, the Steering Committee proposed the formation of caucus groups intentionally focused on the different racial groups represented on the Steering Committee. To date, the White caucus group referred to as the “Deconstructing White Privilege” working group has met twice a year. The Black and Asian caucus groups have yet to meet and establish their mandates.
Resources: Since 2006, the CEARN Steering Committee has also developed resources for congregational use, with the launching of these resources often coinciding with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, commemorated every year on March 21st.
2006: The first of these, titled: “God so loved the people of the world,” contains biblical reflections, sermon notes from different Christian traditions, workshop outlines, and guidelines for doing anti-racism workshops, and significant sites across Canada to visit. Although first produced for the observance of Racial Justice Week around March 21 in 2006, this resource can be used for racial justice education and action for any week of any year.
2007: Titled: “From Chains to Freedom: Journeying Toward Reconciliation,” the 2007 racial justice resource contains reflections on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade and offers historical background, worship resources, and suggestions on what is needed for healing and reconciliation. It was aptly launched at the oldest Black church in Canada, the First Baptist Church of Toronto, on March 24, 2007.
2008: In 2008, CEARN offered for congregational use a prayer of the four directions and original lyrics for a song to mark March 21 in any year.
2009: CEARN is planning on producing a racial justice resource for the Year of Indigenous Peoples in 2009.
“Theological Starting Points for Action”. Through this compilation of theological and practical reflections on its experience of doing anti-racism work in the churches, CEARN hopes to share learned wisdom with one and all.
Through CEARN and its activities, some churches and ecumenical groups in Canada have been demonstrating a commitment to facing the challenges of addressing racism in church and in society. The CEARN Steering Committee is dedicated to walking alongside our member churches, and to expanding our membership both individual and organizational, so that together we can create a formidable partnership against racism in our Canadian churches.