The “One Bag of Tea, One Conversation, One Relationship” initiative grew out of Minister of Reconciliation Rev. April Johnson’s own experiences.
After 10 years of offering anti-racism trainings, Johnson saw that many participants had never talked about racism in any intentional way. Moreover, trainings were often held in groups of people who had never met or worked closely with each other.
She sensed a need for a new kind of entry point into reconciliation work.
“Racism is a very emotional topic, so we can’t enter into that conversation with people we aren’t in relationship with,” Johnson says.
As she thought about how best to start those kinds of conversations, she was inspired by tea. Johnson knew that in various other cultures, tea is more than a beverage; it is an activity. On a trip to Kenya, she remembered being invited to “take tea,” which served as an invitation to sit and visit without distraction.
The idea developed as Johnson asked herself, “What if we were to invite people we don’t know to sit down and have tea and an intentional, structured, dialogue?”
She, along with Reconciliation Program Minister Rev. Bere Gil Soto, developed a set of questions to guide a conversation that progressively deepens and leads to action. This structure mirrors Reconciliation Ministry’s training program, which ends with calls for participants to take next steps in their communities.
To encourage conversation over tea, they created a tea bag wrapper that lists a question on each panel, so that “the conversation literally unfolds as you unfold the wrapper,” Gil Soto says.
Reconciliation Ministry officially launched the “One Bag of Tea, One Conversation, One Relationship” initiative at the 2017 General Assembly, providing materials at their breakfast event and exhibit hall booth.
The ultimate goal of this program, Johnson says, “is to move people to types of relationships where they can invest in each other, and advocate for a common good…Once you recognize that everyone is a part of your community, then you’re more able to care about what happens around you and can commit to change that community together.”
Since General Assembly, interest in the program has grown. Congregations and individuals can order materials from Reconciliation, and many have personalized this model, such as developing relationships while onboarding a new pastor.
“What we’re looking for is transformation through relationship,” Gil Soto says. “Through a lot of miracles Jesus performed, he asked questions, and got to know the people he helped. So, through doing this work, we are mirroring the same kind of important work Jesus did.”
“These questions help us increase and strengthen our faith,” Johnson agrees. “It’s our faith that calls us to advocate for others. Relationships in our tradition with Christ prompts us to ask each other questions, to be in conversation with each other, to model what Christ did for us.”
To support this and other Reconciliation Ministry Fund programs, you’re invited to give to the 2018 Reconciliation Special Offering, received in many congregations on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7.