In anticipation of the conversations on racial reconciliation and repentance that will occur at the 44th General Assembly this June, 30 PCA pastors and ruling elders have come together to publish a book of essays on race and the denomination. The purpose of Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation and Representation in the Church is to offer a picture of how PCA leaders of all ethnicities are moving imperfectly on the journey of racial reconciliation.

The book, published in May, is available in paperback and on Kindle through Amazon.

The idea for the book began with Doug Serven, senior pastor of City Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City. After the 2015 General Assembly, Serven began thinking about issues of race in the denomination. He realized that some of his fellow teaching and ruling elders, particularly those who were not Caucasian like him, had been wrestling with these issues for years, and he had never known it. Serven reached out to these men and asked them to write their stories.

He also asked some white pastors to share their reflections and stories of how God has been changing their hearts and how they think about issues of race and repentance.

Serven served as the collection’s general editor and also contributed his own essay. He said that for too long only a few pastors have tried dealing with the issue of race, but most white PCA pastors did not join their efforts. Now white brothers are entering the conversation, and many of them are offering their stories of messiness and humility. Some, such as Tim LeCroy of Christ our King Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Missouri, describe how God used the 2015 General Assembly to begin awakening him to his indifference toward the struggles of his nonwhite brothers.

Irwyn Ince, pastor of City of Hope Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Maryland, worked with Serven to write the book’s introduction and contributed an essay to the collection. He also reached out to African-American brothers and invited them to contribute. Ince does not want Caucasians in the PCA to be overwhelmed with a sense of “white guilt,” but he appreciates the humility with which the white ruling and teaching elders confessed their ignorance and how much they need to learn on the topic of race.

For Ince, Heal Us, Emmanuel helps move the denomination toward communicating across lines that were divisive in the past.

Duke Kwon, pastor of Grace Meridian Hill in Washington, D.C., believes much of the power of Heal Us, Emmanuel is in the personal nature of the essays. Kwon described many of the essays as “testimonial,” and he thinks that for those who will listen well, the testimonies have the power to encourage them on their journeys with powerful stories that are not neat and tidy.

“It is an exercise in listening in a different way and also speaking up in a way we haven’t spoken up before,” Serven said. “I think our minority brothers and sisters would like us to listen, but not just listen … to enter into their story in a different way.”

The book also offers readers the chance for meaningful connection. Most of the elders contributing to the book are not nationally recognized authors, but local pastors and ruling elders. Readers can reach out to writers whose stories and thoughts challenge them.

“There is a very real opportunity for follow-up with these authors because we are in ecclesiastical community. Real fruit is only going to take place in the context of community. … The desire is not simply to share information but for relationships that lead to transformation,” Kwon said.

As General Assembly approaches, Serven, Kwon, and Ince all hope the Assembly will act on the racial reconciliation overtures and outline concrete steps to demonstrate the fruits of repentance. They understand that the actions of one General Assembly will not definitively settle the matter but hope that even more of the denomination’s members will join the conversation.

“There are a number of pastors in the denomination who want to really engage in difficult conversations on race in the church,” Ince said. “I hope we have a spirit of boldness to speak without being divisive.”

The impact of the book, Kwon suggests, can’t be measured by sales. “As long as each reader is encouraged to listen, to be provoked and encouraged by the cross, to ask questions and enter into more dialogue, the book will have been a success,” Kwon said.

The voices are diverse, the experiences wide-ranging, and the ethnicities varied, but the essays come together to call — with one voice — on the One who first drew near to us in order to make broken hearts and broken ways whole again.