Nov. 2020 Race Equity Survey Executive Summary

In 2019, the Racial Inclusion Committee (RIC) of Forest Hill Church called for a survey to give the church information about perceptions, experiences, and opinions of racial inclusion and equity in the church. This report is part of a larger assessment of how the church in all of its activities reflects a commitment to racial equity and inclusion. It fulfills some goals of the church’s Long-Range Planning Committee. This document is an executive summary of the full Racial Equity Survey Report, which is available to read by contacting the Forest Hill Church office.

Methodology and Study Sample

A sub-group of RIC was formed to develop and conduct the survey: Elizabeth Shaw, Kermit Lind, Ann Williams, Ron Register, and Mark Chupp. It was made available in an online format that could be used through a mobile phone, tablet, or computer, as well as in a print format. All members of the church, regular visitors, and church staff were invited to participate. In addition, anyone who came to our building, such as food pantry guests and contract workers, were also invited. The survey analysis and reporting were conducted by two CWRU graduate students Rebecca Smucker and Denique Dennis as well as two experienced researchers from the church: Ann Williams, and Mark Chupp.

A total of 195 people participated in the survey. A 68% majority identified as White/Caucasian/ European, 28% as Black/African/African American/African Diaspora, and 4% as other racial and ethnic groups or unspecified. There was representation across age, sex, education and sexual orientation.

A majority of people who took the survey were either church members or frequent visitors (73%), and 24% said they were part of the extended church family (many being food pantry guests). The remaining people were occasional visitors, family or members, staff, or contractors. About 41% have been attending Forest Hill Church for 6 years or less, 42% from 7 to 30 years, and 16% for 31 years or more. Of the members or frequent visitors, 87% identified as White/Caucasian/European, 13% as Black/African/African American/African Diaspora.

Findings

Below is a summary list of results from both the multiple choice and open-ended questions in the survey. Please note: We neither affirm nor refute the truthfulness of any of these responses.  Our commitment is to report responses accurately.

  1. Many people perceive Forest Hill Church to be welcoming, and some do not. The vast majority (85%) feel very welcome at the church and even larger majorities report that the co-pastors, staff, and members are welcoming. This was true for both Black and white people.
  2. Many report that Forest Hill Church includes people of color, and some do n While two thirds reported that FHC always or often includes people in activities and leadership positions, white people (80%) were more likely than Black people (50%) to report this inclusion.
  3. Perceptions of discrimination and racism are significant issues at Forest Hill Church, and views on this vary widely.
  • About a quarter of people whom responded to the survey (26%) reported that “sometimes” people of color are ignored or treated unkindly. Another quarter (29%) reported that this never occurs and 42% reported that they do not
  • Overt racism is reported as sometimes a problem at Forest Hill Church by about a quarter of people who took the survey, (22%), with another 5% reporting that it is often or always a problem. At the same time, almost half (44%) reported that it is never a problem.
  • Half (50%) of those responding say that subtle racism is always, often, or sometimes a problem at Forest Hill Church. At the same time, 20% reported that it is never a problem. There were no differences in responses based on race or ethnicity of people but there were significant differences based on age. People aged 31-64 were more likely to identify subtle racism as always or often a problem, while those aged 65 and older did not (61% vs. 9%).
  • Church Affiliation affects perception of racism: Members of the church and frequent visitors were more likely than nonmembers to respond that overt racism is always, often, or sometimes a problem (63% vs. 13%).
  1. Many Black people report experiences of racism at Forest Hill Church. Black people were three times more likely than white people to report that they experienced, witnessed, or heard about the following:
  • Someone being ignored after expressing themselves because of their race (30%).
  • Someone being excluded from social networks and gatherings because of their race (20%).
  • Someone being embarrassed, patronized, or treated negatively because of their race (30%).
  • Someone being asked to speak on behalf of all people of their race (30%).
  • Members of the church being discriminated against because of their race (25%).
  1. Many said that Forest Hill Church Includes People of Color in diverse activities and programs. Others either did not agree or did not know.
  • Nearly 90%of members and frequent visitors reported that people of color are always or often included in active role roles in worship services. However, this number is significantly lower for planning of worship and
  • Over half did not know whether people of color were included as key decision makers for adult education or children’s education.
  • Black members and visitors were more likely than white people to report that Forest Hill Church sometimes or never (as opposed to always or often) includes people of color in the following:
    • in planning for worship and special events (50% Blacks vs. 5% Whites),
    • in planning the music for worship and special events (71% vs. 20%),
    • in ministry on Session and in other leadership positions (43% vs. 8%),
    • in paid staff positions (43% vs. 10%),
    • as key decision makers in financial matters (46% vs. 16%),
    • as key decision makers for adult education (46% vs. 11%),
    • as key decision makers for children’s and youth education (54% vs. 10%),
    • in the social groups and activities at the church (69% vs. 22%).

There were no differences by race/ethnicity concerning whether Forest Hill Church includes people of color in active roles in the worship service, in volunteer positions, in displays and articles about the church, and in advertisements and announcements about special events.

  1. Worship is an area with great variation in views.
  • Almost all (95%) members and frequent visitors reported that worship, programs, and events always, often, or sometimes include elements that value non-white cultures. But Black people were more likely to select sometimes or never compared to White people. (71% vs.  27%).
  • Most (84%) people reported that people of color are greeted, welcomed, and treated respectfully in worship services. However, there were significant differences by race. White people were more likely than Black people to report this (92% vs. 67%).
  • White people were also more likely than Black people to report that the Ministry of Worship always or often includes people of color (65% vs. 31%) or serves people of color in culturally appropriate ways (56% vs. 15%).
  1. Church Ministries are not seen equally in how well they serve people of color in appropriate ways and include them in leadership. The percent of people who said that a particular ministry always or often serves people of color in culturally appropriate ways varied greatly. Also, in some cases, over 40% said they did not know.

76%        Justice and Mission
56%        Adult Education and Leadership Development
50%        Worship Ministry
48%        Deacons
47%        Church Growth
42%        Families, Youth and Children Ministries (44% said they did not know)
31%        Stewardship (58% said they did not know)
23%        Trustees (66% said they did not know)

The percent of people who said that people of color are always or often included in leadership followed a similar pattern across ministries.

For most Ministries, White people were more likely than Black people to report that the Ministry “always” or “often” serves people of color in culturally appropriate ways. However, Black people were more likely than White people to report that the Church Growth Team always or often serves people of color in culturally appropriate ways (62% vs. 46%).

White people were also more likely than Black people to choose always or often about whether the Worship Ministry (65% vs. 31%) includes people of color. Black people were more likely than White people to say that people of color are never included in leadership in the Ministry of Trustees (31% vs. 3%).

  1. The vast majority of people who took the survey are committed to expressing their disapproval of racist actions or statements at Forest Hill Church. The majority of all who took the survey (86%), and 94% of members or frequent visitors reported they strongly agree or agree with this statement.

In addition, the majority (61%) report that at least once in the last year, “I have set aside my own discomfort and fear of saying the wrong thing when talking about race with others in the congregation.”

  1. Almost half of the people who took the survey (47%) were “not sure” if their ideas are respected when they are the only member of their race or ethnicity in a group. None of the White people reported that they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” with this statement, but 21% of Black people did.
  2. Older People who took the survey are more likely to say there is too much focus on racial equity. People ages 65 and older were more likely to report that people in the church talk “too much about racial equity and inclusion at Forest Hill Church” compared to those under age 65 (13% vs. 6%).
  3. There were many reports of racist acts in the form of microaggressions (small acts of subtle racism), condescending or disrespectful language, and perpetuation of stereotypes. At the same time, many people reported not experiencing any racism at Forest Hill Church.

There were mixed views about the racial equity work:

  • Some white people reported thinking that the focus on racial issues was too much, and some expressed dissatisfaction or opposition to the church’s racial equity work.
  • While many noted substantial progress over a period of decades in the church and its racial equity efforts, many also recognized the extensive work that remains to be carried out.

People who took the survey expressed a number of hopes and aspirations for the future of Forest Hill Church and its journey toward racial equity and inclusion, such as:

  • Continue efforts towards racial equity.
  • Decrease resistance to change from the racial majority.
  • Move beyond dialogue toward accountability, tangible efforts and results.
  • Include other dimensions of diversity beyond race.

Table 1 below highlights the contradictory results that appeared throughout the survey in both quantitative and qualitative results.  The “both…and…” statements indicate that significant numbers of people responded in contradictory ways. It is not possible to generalize that most people at Forest Hill agree on certain conclusions about perceptions and experiences of racism, equity, and inclusion.

Table 1: Summary of Major Themes from Open-Ended Questions

Co-occurrence of opposites: BOTH….  AND….

1. Inclusiveness/Racism

BOTH: Some people experience Forest Hill Church as an inclusive space that welcomes all people

AND: Some people experience racism at Forest Hill Church.

2. Feeling Energized/Exhausted

BOTH: For some people, the programs and preaching about racial equity are inspiring and energizing, helping people deepen their commitment

AND: For some people, there is too much focus on racial equity. It is exhausting and moving too fast.

3. Progress Achieved/Progress Needed

BOTH: Forest Hill Church has come far

AND: Forest Hill Church has a long way to go.

4. Importance of the Survey

BOTH: This survey shows that Forest Hill Church is taking racial equity seriously

AND: This survey has major flaws and shortcomings.

Recommendations

The survey findings point to significant work that needs to be done for us to become the Beloved Community.  We pride ourselves on being welcoming and inclusive but Black people do not feel this to the same extent as white people.  The extent to which we can be truly diverse is entirely dependent on whether people who walk in the door want to return, whether they be current members, potential members, volunteers, guests, or visitors during the week.

These recommendations are based on the major themes of the survey results and recommendations offered by people who took the survey.

  1. Promote education and mutual learning across the whole congregation.  Create and expand educational efforts beyond ad hoc and voluntary efforts to reach all parts of congregational life, including worship, standard Christian education offerings, book studies and Black history education.  Create ways to promote congregation-wide common language and understanding of racism and racial equity.
  2. Be intentional about communication.  Develop a communications strategy and plan that reaches all parts of the FHC community.  Create channels for addressing questions, comments, suggestions, or concerns.  Provide information on how to be anti-racist for people with varying levels of experience.
  3. Create brave spaces that challenge assumptions and nurture growth.  Create an honest and supportive space for all people of our faith community to express themselves.  Encourage all people to model equitable behavior in their words and actions.  Provide opportunities for white people to build resilience, guide personal growth and hold themselves and each other accountable for liberation from white supremacy.
  4. Make Sunday morning worship the room where it happens.  The songs, sermons and other aspects of worship should better reflect diversity, inclusion, and love.  Recognize the diversity in how God speaks to people and incorporate that into worship.
  5. Create a Racial Equity Inclusion 5-Year Plan for transforming the congregation.  Define the transformation needed to embody the beloved community at the individual level and in our programs, policies, staffing and governance.  Develop a plan to move towards that transformation.  Focus on achieving equitable inclusion and liberation from white supremacy.  Conduct an annual audit to measure progress.
  6. Celebrate who we are and the progress that we have made and are making on this racial equity journey.  Recognize and celebrate the richness that equity and diversity bring to our faith community.
  7. Initiate a ‘Body Building’ program.  Build muscle – skills, strength, and endurance for the racial equity journey- through spiritual formation, anti-racism practices, racial equity buddies and racial equity lenses.

 “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lila Watson

To receive a copy of the complete report, please contact the Church Office at 216-321-2660 or office@fhcpresb.org.

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