Pastoral Response on Racism

June 3, 2020

Beloved Friends,

We write to you with heavy hearts weighed down with grief, sadness, and anger. As your pastors, we have been brought to our knees as we pray for our brown and black brothers and sisters, and as we ask, “Father, forgive us.”

Father, forgive us for the hurt that we have allowed to continue for centuries.

Father, forgive us for the ways that we have failed to do the work to dismantle the systems of racism in our country, in our churches, and in our own hearts.

Our hearts have been particularly unsettled as we witnessed the events on Monday in our nation’s capital, where peaceful protestors and clergy handing out aid to people on the street were tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets, prior to a mandatory curfew, so that our president could have a photo opportunity holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church. We cannot help but imagine what that would have felt like if a similar scene had played out in front of our own church.

Nothing about this event is in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which we as Christians are called to proclaim. These actions of violence and disregard for human dignity have caused further wounds and harm.
We grieve for those who were cast aside, and we pray for a depth of change of heart and policy in our government and leadership to a place where human decency is always more important than optics.

Many of us sense the gravity and importance of the moment we are in. This is about more than the death of George Floyd. This is about more than police brutality against brown and black people. This is about more than a photo opportunity for our current president. This is about more than individual racist actions.

This moment is bringing before all of our eyes the fundamental SYSTEM of racism that has been woven into our country since its origin and challenging us to SEE it and do the work of dismantling it.

The story of racism is a long one, and we will not find a new way of living with one another, healing the hurts, and righting the wrongs overnight. This is a marathon, an ultra-marathon even.

We are humbled and honored…

We have been overwhelmed by the number of you who are sharing how you are seeking to learn, listen, and grow in this moment. We as your pastors are right there with you in this work; we have learned much in just this last week, but we still have much to learn ourselves.

We feel honored to be pastoring a congregation filled with people willing to sit in this uncomfortable moment and not run away. We are humbled by those willing to try to listen to the Spirit, listen to the voices of our black and brown sisters and brothers (including those in our own congregation), and do the work of understanding more fully how we arrived at such a crucial moment as a nation and how we must faithfully respond as followers of Jesus Christ. It is humble work that we will need to do together.

As all of us try to make sense of this moment, we offer you some encouragement and a few suggestions…

A Few Suggestions

1. Be kind to yourself and to each other. As we say each Sunday, God Loves You… No Matter What. Your belovedness as a child of God is not at stake here. You belong. You matter. And the complex feelings you are feeling are okay. The questions you have are okay. Know that this will take some time. It is okay to rest and turn off the news and social media sometimes to maintain good mental health.

2. Be willing to go beneath the surface. None of us want to be seen as racist, but racism is much bigger than individual actions. Listen and ask lots of questions. It is clear that many white people truly do not understand the depth of suffering that black people have endured and why there is so much anger. So ask. Listen. Read. Give yourself space to have your initial reactions, but then ask questions. Do all of this BEFORE you speak or post on social media. We’ve shared some helpful anti-racism resources on our website (HERE) and Facebook page to help you with this process.

3. Do the work of learning and asking questions beyond just on social media. This work asks us to be vulnerable and to take risks. We need to do this with people who will challenge us and tell us the truth but not cut us down in cruelty for making a mistake. Preserving our humanity is important. If you are looking for others to do this work with, please reach out and let us do this together. If you are interested in starting a group, contact Beth Palmer, Director of Adult Discipleship (bpalmer@hilliardumc.org).

4. Mistakes are part of how we will grow. We won’t likely get this right the first, second, or maybe even tenth time. While they may hurt, do not let words of correction set you back in this work. Turn to prayer, repentance, and an open heart willing to acknowledge that we do not understand everything. Keep listening. And keep remembering that you are loved… no matter what.

5. Use your voice to speak truth into the lives of people that God has given you the chance to share with. Do it in love. Not in condemnation or judgment. This is not a time for hateful and hurtful comments on social media. Speak because you love the people you are speaking to and those who are hurting right now because of the violence.

This Sunday: Testimonies from Staff Members

This Sunday during worship we are honored to have the voices and witnesses of our Children’s Ministry Assistant, Nikki Buskirk, with our Band Leader, Sharon Udoh, offering their perspective on this moment as black women.

After we receive the gift of their sharing, we will celebrate together the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

As we have said previously, bring what you have. The ordinary things we have to offer — bread, crackers, juice, water, even leftover pizza or goldfish crackers — are more than enough to stand in as symbols and signs of a love that is poured out for us and for the world. It may also be that what you have to bring is your sadness or frustration or fear or anger.
Celebrating Holy Communion together this Sunday will be a sacred and important moment to gather together with our grief and our hope for a new kind of future.

We also have two new opportunities for adult discipleship coming up, both of which can help us with this season of unrest in different ways:

Prayer and Meditation Class

8 Thursdays starting June 18, 7:30-8:30pm
Online via Zoom
Facilitators: Pastor April Blaine & Ginny Fisher
More details and sign-up link HERE.

One of the powerful things that a practice of meditation can offer in times like these is the ongoing ability to let go of the busy thoughts in our mind to create spaciousness and room for the Spirit to work within us. We need now more than ever to be able to listen to God and the work of the Spirit within us. Meditation also gives us a greater capacity to sit with the discomfort without running away. This class will help you begin or further develop your own practice alongside the support of others.

“Torn” Book Study
Facilitated by Jane Dewire
Reconciling Ministry Discernment Team
Online Google doc component, available now here
Zoom live discussion component June 29
More details and sign-up link HERE.We also invite you to read and join in discussion of Justin Lee’s book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate (link to purchase your copy HERE). While much of this moment is centered on race, discrimination always finds an intersection where hurt is done to the “other.” We have work to do in many areas, and we are grateful for our Reconciling Ministry Discernment Team for bringing this opportunity for conversation to us. They’ve posted questions for each chapter to aid in your reflection while you read (HERE), and there will be an online discussion component on Monday, June 29, at 6pm.

And so… we will be praying…

for each of you…

for our nation…

Grace and peace to all of you,
Pastors April and Jon

God loves you no matter what!