Pastoral Message on Racial Justice
Today, May 25th, marks two years since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police that sparked a national reckoning on racism, police and violence. Of course, the movement to address police violence against persons of color has been gaining momentum since 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed, then drew more persons into consciousness in the outrage and lament as we witnessed the murders of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, and many others. But with George Floyd’s murder, a kind of critical mass was reached in the acknowledgement by a broad swath of US society of the evil embedded in our systems and lives that stems from racism.
Still, even with increased consciousness and commitment, the tragic results of police violence against persons of color persist. And, we are lamenting and reeling from the racially-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, last weekend. The senselessness and hate that led to these murderous manifestations of violence is an extreme reminder that the work of racial justice remains urgent.
WHERE WE’VE BEEN
Epworth has been responding to the urgent need for racial justice in a number of ways. This message will update you on where we are now. Our initial response included:
A listening circle for African American elders to share with me, their pastor, about their experiences as Black persons at Epworth;
Study groups who read together and challenged each other;
A Truth and Racial Reckoning group that sought to dig into Epworth’s particular history—in our church, community and denomination—to understand how racism had affected and shaped our current reality, and to begin to name how to reckon and repair;
Supporting two of our youth who organized a march through Richmond
The “Beyond February” project in which persons created a tribute to a Black person killed by police violence, researching the story of their lives and how they died. These tributes were dedicated in a service of prayer and lament, then installed as a witness on the Hopkins Street side of the church.
An additional weekly pandemic e-message to address both the Covid-19 pandemic and the pandemic of racism
These responses led into a series of Holy Conversations on race, racism and racial justice last fall. Designed by a group of nine Epworthians that included African American elders and youth, the series engaged the full congregation on what had been happening, the particular experience of persons of color, and the importance of intersectional approaches. Ultimately, the series was asking Epworth to wrestle with the questions of, “What is God saying to God’s people? How is God calling us to witness and act?”
Participation was deep and broad through the fall, and the final session led to the writing of a Racial Justice Mission Statement for Epworth and the resolution to establish a racial justice action team.
WHERE WE ARE NOW
As we move into the third year since Floyd’s death, our response is moving to three primary approaches:
1. On Juneteenth (Sunday, June 19, 2022), we will hold a community-wide forum after coffee hour at 11:30. Creators of the Beyond February Witness tributes have been invited to share updates on the person for whom the tribute was created or updates on how the work of witness has caused new change or action in themselves. Some of you have indicated you would like to create a new tribute, and this is also possible and can be dedicated to the witness wall on that day. Tragically, the scourge of police violence perpetrated against persons of color continues. We'll hold space to hear these updates and say each name.
We will be moving the tributes to Fellowship Hall. As these tributes move inside, we will begin a formal process of racial justice assessment at Epworth that came out of the racial justice/food solutions Lenten small group led by Dianne Rush Woods. Racial justice is both internal and external work. The Beyond February Witness will continue to be a powerful testimony of the tragedy of lives lost to police violence and a witness to holding ourselves and our community accountable in hope.
2. The Truth and Racial Reckoning Group has defined its primary mission at this time to be one of study, reflection and sustenance through monthly gatherings. On July 13, they will be embarking on a reparations study, using the curriculum in the "Tool Kit from Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity” to guide discussions. This investigation will be paired with the work that has already been done to understand and acknowledge Epworth’s particular history.
3. After worship on July 10 (tbc), Michael Martin, Dianne Rush Woods and I will be convening those who want to proceed with focused action for racial justice. Many ideas were generated in response to the question, “If Epworth were to take some actions to remedy racial injustice, what for you would be meaningful?” In this convening, we will look at the full compilation of these ideas, as well as here where persons are feeling called now, and begin to develop action plans. Last November at our annual church conference, we passed a resolution to establish a racial justice action team. We will also discuss how that resolution will manifest.
My hope and prayer is that everyone at Epworth will be engaged in some focused response to racial injustice. At the same time, our mission is to weave consciousness and response for racial justice into all of who we are as a congregation. We grieve the ten individuals who were murdered while grocery shopping in Buffalo, NY, and we will be lifting them up by name this Sunday. We grieve the many, many others whose brilliance and blessing has been lost to racially-motivated violence. We know that our faith compels us to call on God to confess where we are complicit or to lament where we have experienced this violence, and then to know that we are heard and responded to. In the confidence of God’s respond, we gain confidence to respond and act. Let us press on toward the goal of a new heaven and new earth where the harm of the past and the now is repaired.
Grace and peace,