Reflections on the Massacre at Mother Emanuel

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This fall we’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Perry Perkins is one of our workshop presenters for the 2016 National Gathering. Learn more about the workshop at the end of this post. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

by Perry Perkins

Editor’s Note: This was first published in the Democratic Faith Journal in June of 2015. We have edited it slightly to reflect the passage of time.

In the introduction to his book The Social Teachings of Black Churches, Peter Parris says that Black churches have at the center of their social teaching a Biblical Anthropology that is based on the Biblical narrative of the Creation. In the Genesis account we are told that all human beings are created in the likeness and image of God. Parris says that African American Churches teach that this means all human beings are equal and kin because we are all children of the one Creator.

Parris goes on to say that this anthropological theology defines how black churches approach the world. He says that white people historically were accepted as members and even Pastors of black congregations because they accepted this very basic tenant of the African American Church.

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photo credit: nomader via wikipedia

On Wednesday evening [June 17, 2015,] a young man who authorities believe has white supremacist views, entered the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina as mid-week Bible study was in progress. The young man asked to see the Pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, and Rev. Pinckney asked the young man to sit next to him during the Bible study lesson.

After the lesson ended, this young man began killing those who had gathered to study the Bible, those same people who had welcomed him into their historic church, as they have always welcomed and embraced visitors from around the world. He experienced the practice of the Biblical Anthropology that has been at the center of Emanuel since it broke off from the predominantly white Charleston Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 and was officially co-founded by Morris Brown in 1818.

Emanuel AME, the oldest African American Episcopal Church in the south, has stood throughout its history as a beacon of hope, teaching the Biblical Anthropology in opposition to the dominant social anthropology of the country, white supremacy. In 1822, Denmark Vesey, Mother Emanuel’s other co-founder, along with other members of Emanuel, plotted what would have been the largest slave rebellion in the country. Vesey and five other members of Emanuel were executed when the plot was discovered. Shortly after the rebellion was foiled, Emanuel was burned to the ground. The white establishment of Charleston and the state of South Carolina were so frightened by the plot that they built a fortress, the Citadel, which aimed its guns toward the houses of the Emanuel members.

Despite the loss of the church building Emanuel continued to thrive and was often the beginning station of the Underground Railroad. For many years it was forced to function underground, but despite these obstacles Emanuel stood as a symbol against white supremacy. Emanuel continued to proclaim that all of God’s children are kin. Emanuel’s very perseverance as a congregation stood as a vibrant testimony against the false ideology of white supremacy.

The gunman who entered Emanuel on [that] Wednesday night experienced the welcoming of the stranger as an unknown brother. Despite this, the hatred and rage within him, spawned by the ideology of white supremacy, led him to take the life of the Pastor and eight other congregation members who had welcomed him. This despicable act cannot simply be passed off as the act of a lone deranged man, but must be seen as a product of the original sin of this country, the ideology and even theology of white supremacy. We have come a long way around race in this country; however, until we fully deal with the demons unleashed by the false doctrine of white supremacy we will continue to see events like the massacre at Mother Emanuel.

Many ask how do we deal with exorcising the demons of white supremacy? There is no easy answer or formula. However, for the last almost 31 years I have been a part of a guild of organizers called the Industrial Areas Foundation. IAF, founded by Saul Alinsky in 1940, is the nation’s oldest and largest network of organizers. IAF partners with local institutional leaders to build local non-partisan political organizations aimed at crossing the divisions of community life to build vehicles of civic engagement that we call Broad Based Organizations. The major division or road block to constructive civic engagement is the construct of race that grows from the false doctrine of white supremacy.

Organizations like Working Together Jackson, a coalition of some 43 institutions in Jackson, Mississippi, are deliberately organized across racial lines. Working Together Jackson was publicly founded in June of 2012, after three years of Sponsoring Committee work, carefully building relationships across racial, religious, political, and economic divisions. These years of groundwork have helped to achieve a measure of public trust that crosses racial barriers and testifies to the Biblical notion of kinship of all creation.

Acting together through this new found trust that flies in the face of the white supremacist history of Jackson, the leaders of WTJ have created the first Housing Trust Fund in Mississippi, as a financial instrument to combat the blight that plagues most of Jackson’s predominantly black neighborhoods. The leaders crossed race to secure 6,600 signatures in one month on a constitutional amendment proposal to fully fund public education in the state. In one week they secured 3,000 yes votes on a ballot initiative to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure of Jackson and to invest $1.2 billion over 20 years in rebuilding Jackson. WTJ is also crossing racial lines to partner with the city of Jackson to recruit and train underemployed and unemployed local residents to fill the living wage jobs produced by this infrastructure reinvestment program.

This evidence of our work is not enough to prevent other tragedies like the one that occurred in Charleston on Wednesday, but the slow and systemic work of building public relationships that teach in word and deed the Biblical Anthropology proclaimed by Mother Emanuel is part of the solution to exorcising the demons of America’s original sin.


 

perryPerry C. Perkins, Jr. has organized for 37 years and has been affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation’s oldest network of organizers. He is the IAF Supervisory Organizer for Louisiana and Mississippi. He, along with organizer Kathleen O’Toole, are leading a workshop at the 2016 National Gathering entitled “Forging Public Relationships after Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Charleston.” The workshop will explore the essential discipline of the “relational action” fundamental to authentic conversations and action that move us forward toward God’s beloved community, especially as “America’s original sin” continues to breed mistrust in our public life and discourse.

Greatest Hit: Making Space to Engage Our Neighbors

This fall, in addition to sharing reflections on “what is saving your ministry right now?”, we are also bringing back some of our most popular posts over the last couple of years. We hope these “greatest hits” will allow you new insight in this busy time of year. We invite you to join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

This post on multicultural ministry and community engagement is one of our most popular posts in the history of the NEXT Church blog. We’ve updated it slightly below in hopes it becomes a fresh resource as you look towards December.

By Rachel Triska

Several weeks ago, I was sitting in our coffee bar during an event and overheard a conversation that made me smile. A tech company had brought 125 of their employees from across the globe to our space for a major annual meeting. One of the guests was visiting with Kevin (a Dallas cop who runs security for all our events). The gentleman asked Kevin, “So what is this place?” Kevin began to give him our elevator pitch, “Life in Deep Ellum is a cultural center built for the artistic, social, economic and spiritual benefit of Deep Ellum and urban Dallas.” Then he added, “Basically, it’s a church that opens up to the community for a lot of different things. I’m here all the time – art shows, corporate events, fundraisers.” To which the gentleman responded, “You could have asked me for a list of twenty guesses – a church would not have been one of them.”

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

From the Life in Deep Ellum Facebook page

Joel and I have been pastoring together at Life in Deep Ellum for almost six years. Deep Ellum is a historic neighborhood just outside downtown Dallas. It’s often described as the Brooklyn of the South. Basically, it’s a small neighborhood with a big personality – lots of artists, entrepreneurs and folks who pride themselves on not needing God.

It’s that last characteristic that forced us to think differently about how to engage our neighborhood – traditional methods of outreach were not working. It was my husband who first pointed out what this neighborhood was forcing us to do. It forced us to stop thinking like pastors and start thinking like missionaries.

He was absolutely right. We found that to connect with our neighborhood we had to slow down enough to learn the language, the customs, how to appreciate their sense of humor. Some people might say we’ve kind of gone native. Ministering in this neighborhood certainly changed us.

What I love about thinking like a missionary is it taught me to think beyond Sundays. To think about how we might engage our neighbors seven days a week. That’s how we reached the decision to operate as a cultural center Monday-Friday.

Every Sunday we stack all the chairs in our venue (worship space) and put them away. Our band clears the stage. We take down all our church-specific signage. We clear out because we are making space to engage our neighbors. Those very same neighbors who say they will never go to church but hang out with us in our building all the time. On Tuesday nights a dance company takes over the space. Mondays and Wednesdays we host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In the next few weeks we’ll host a book launch for a local author, a closing reception for an art exhibit and have 500 teens in for a spoken word event.

Each year, not including Sundays, we see between 10,000 and 20,000 people come through our building. Our coffee shop will serve somewhere around 35,000 cups of coffee this year.

A lot can happen when we think beyond Sundays. One of our friends who first engaged with us via community events says, “What happens here Monday through Friday is why I gave Sundays a chance. And what happens here on Sundays restored my faith in what Christian community can be.”

We use Monday through Friday as an opportunity to redefine for people what it looks like to be the Church on mission. And often, it does open their hearts to what happens on Sunday.


Rachel Triska is the Chief Practicioner at Life in Deep Ellum. Rachel enjoys running, reading the classics, and expressing her inner child while playing with her two daughters. rachel@lifeindeepellum.com

 

Looking for more? Check out the resources below from NEXT:

Pastoral Care for College Students Over Break

By John Rogers

As I type this, students are sitting in our campus ministry center studying away for finals. Some are seasoned veterans who know just where to find the exam blue books, free snacks, and know who has swipes left on their meal plan cards. But many are just starting, and the stress levels are through the roof. Most of our students have rarely seen anything other than an A, and most of them are coming in to college with over a semester’s worth of credits from their high school AP courses.

So, the pressure of doing well (mostly assumed on their own) creates a level anxiety—even among those who are involved in one of our campus ministries. Hope, Joy, Love, Peace… Yes, anticipation is in the air, but not always one wrapped up in an eschatological hope. Rather, it is anticipation of the grade they will learn of sometime over break.

PCM Thanksgiving

Campus Ministry Thanksgiving Dinner

Granted, some are pretty laid back, doing well, and surviving the trauma of a changed major or two. But within all of this — all of them — we need to remember are young adults who are maturing into a theological approach to their life. They are all facing challenges and are beginning to newly understand what it means to discern what they are “called” to do in life. They do so within the context of choosing a major or a career path in this new day in which most adults go through at least one if not two career changes in their professional life.

What many of them need to hear from their pastors and church members at home is more than, “how is college life?” They need someone to ask them, “how are you hearing God’s voice in your midst?” Far too often, we fall into the easy misperception that the undergraduate years are little more than a hoop to jump through. When we do this, we miss out on the wonderful opportunities during these years to encourage and spiritual development and maturation. Using language of “gift” rather than “privilege” goes a long way in assuring that the conversation will go beneath the surface. Asking your college student about their understanding of call and vocation is a wonderful way to start.

Yes, most will be catching up on their sleep that they forwent during the exam period (and it is not because they were cramming and did not study throughout the semester — most of them did. When you set high expectations for yourself, the work is never done.) But, amidst the busyness of this season with all the responsibilities and opportunities of Advent and Christmas, reaching out to your students is one thing not to miss. This is a big time in their lives. A lot is going on. New things they are learning along with an abundance of new people and new ideas. Take them to lunch or coffee, and ask them about it. The college years won’t last forever, and if you don’t seize the opportunity now, it will be gone before you know it, and you will have missed the chance to engage with them at a critical time in their lives. Now is when and where they are laying claim on the land of who they are and want to be. From my desk in the campus ministry center and my interactions, I can tell you that if you think their time of confirmation was important, multiply that by a factor of 10. The world is opening up to them in new ways — what a difference it can make for them to hear that their church, their pastors, are interested in hearing about it.  I’ll be praying for them while they are on break — and for you, too.

I’d also invite you to keep in your prayers the 1000+ who will be gathering at Montreat for their annual college conference January 2-5. It is a powerful time for conversation, worship, and engagement with students from all over the country. These students are expressing a collective thanks for the freedom of a break where tests and exams are in the rearview mirror and new classes and spring break mission experiences are on the horizon for the spring. AND if you find that they are hungering for something that is missing in their college experience where they have not connected to a campus ministry — get them plugged in. Call or email someone on their campus and help them identify a ministry that will minister to them as they discern how God will use them.

RogersJohn Rogers it the Associate Pastor for Campus Ministry at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel Hill.   As the campus minister John works with a congregation of students that ranges from about 70 – 90 students each year. Students at PCM come by for Thursday night dinner, fellowship, and program, and throughout the week for other activities and worship at UPC. Also John staffs the outreach committees at UPC. He’s husband to Trina and dad to Liza and Cate. Before all of that he coached golf and was a scratch golfer.

General Assembly: More Than Debate?

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By Carol M. McDonald

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has begun in Detroit, MI.  Thousands of people are gathered here to worship, celebrate, converse, listen, discern, and debate.  And when the crowds disperse on Saturday, June 21, many of us will remember fondly reconnecting with old friends, acquiring new friends, amazing singing, and the power of gathering daily at the communion table.  But I daresay ALL of us will remember how the approximately 700 commissioners and advisory delegates debated the issues and discerned God’s will for our church for ‘such a time as this.’

It has been my profound privilege to moderate, since 2010, the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies.  From the beginning of our work together, our dream has been for ‘a different kind of Assembly.’  We have encouraged the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to structure the Assembly docket to include intentional times of conversation and prayer.  And we are particularly excited about the possibilities for a new kind of plenary session in 2014.

On Thursday morning, June 19, the plenary meeting of the Assembly will be a time for conversation and discernment, rather than a time for debate.  The Moderator of the Assembly, in partnership with the Stated Clerk, will select two critical/key/potentially contentious issues being brought to the plenary from two of the Assembly Standing Committees.  Each committee Moderator will make a 5 minute presentation to the Assembly – being clear about what it is the Assembly will be asked to vote on.  Following each presentation, groups of 8 will be invited to be in conversation: a.) What did you hear that might lead someone to support the committee’s recommendation(s)? b.) what did you hear that might keep someone from supporting the committee’s recommendation(s)?  Following the small group conversations, the Assembly Moderator will ascertain that what the Assembly will be asked to vote on is clear and will then lead the Assembly in prayer.

The hope of the Biennial Review Committee is that this non-parliamentary plenary with informal discussion of key issues will hopefully change the way critical and contentious issues are then debated and decided upon.(1)  It is our prayer that all commissioners and advisory delegates, during this time of conversation, will have both the opportunity to speak and the privilege of being heard.  You will want to be in the Plenary Hall – or glued to your computer screen for live-streaming – on Thursday morning, June 19.  Tune in to learn which issues will be discussed in a new and different way.

(1)Glen Alberto Guenther, member of CRBA, in Presbyterians Today, “Can General Assembly Offer More Than Debate?”

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Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.07.56 AMCarol M. McDonald is the Executive of the Synod of Lincoln Trails and Moderator of the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. She is on the advisory team of NEXT Church.

 

Creating Tension is a Pastoral Skill

By Andrew Foster Connors

tension copy“Madame Mayor,” I said, opening the meeting as our group of leaders had planned, “we’re here today because we are disappointed in your lack of leadership.  You’ve told us you were going to double the number of jobs for youth and that hasn’t happened.  You said you would double funding for afterschool funding and that hasn’t happened.  And you’re closing rec centers after we agreed that Baltimore’s youth need more recreation, not less.  When you were elected you made a promise that you would be the Mayor for opportunities for youth.  We’ve come here today to see whether we can count on you to make good on your promises.”

Tension.  All community organizing expects tension at some point in time. Sometimes we introduce it intentionally.  We “agitate” leaders to produce a reaction.

Yet within the congregation, most of us are reluctant to introduce tension.  Some of us see introducing tension as inconsistent with pastoral ethics or approach.

Many of us in the pastorate either grew up in systems that trained us to smooth over tension, or were intentionally trained that reducing tension is part of our job description. Our comfort with tension has been further eroded by the qualities of tension that we have witnessed within our denomination and within our political environment that we have experienced as tension leading to the destruction of relationships rather than in the deepening of them.

And yet, even a novice student of the Jesus Way would recognize early on how much tension there is in the Gospels.  Anytime Jesus comes around, someone is likely to be challenged.  In any church that finds itself “stuck,” or leans toward a status quo that has or will endanger its ability to adjust to changing circumstances, tension is the fire that we light to get people moving.  Those of us who have completed Clinical Pastoral Education often report learning the most from the supervisor who asked the question that seemed too “impolite” or “aggressive” to ask.  “The patient said she was afraid of dying and you responded by asking her if she was enjoying the food. Why did you ask that question? Are you afraid of hearing her fears?”

We should expect tension in our communities and learn how to face it with more confidence.  In fact, we should learn how to introduce it in constructive ways that shift the burden and the opportunity of leadership off the pastor(s) and onto more leaders and potential leaders in the congregation.

Pastors who want to become leaders within and beyond their congregations can start by practicing creative tension in their own backyard.  Take one example – someone comes to you and says they are disappointed with the lack of small group ministry in your church.  In their previous church, they say, there were all kinds of small groups that were active.

Pastors afraid of tension are likely to react in a couple of predictable ways.  We might react as if this is our responsibility: “I really need to do something about the lack of small groups.  I need to work harder on this!”  Or we might react defensively: “Well, sorry, but this is not your former church, and we don’t have the resources for a small group ministry.” Both responses deprive the person of the possibility to grow as a leader.  They deprive the community of the potential gifts that arise as a result of this leader’s passion and willingness to act on that passion.

A pastor who is comfortable with tension, after listening well, might respond with all sorts of questions that preserve tension rather than dissipating it: “Have you talked with others who share your concern? Would you be willing to? Is this important enough to you that you would be willing to lead such a group or to recruit others to do so? How could I support you in that effort?” By placing some of the tension for the lack of small groups back on the person who first noticed it, the pastor gives that person the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership potential, and prevents the pastor from inadvertently becoming the fix-it person for everything that’s wrong with the church.

Of course, that person might not be a leader and might not be interested in becoming one.  But we’ll never know unless we’re willing to test them out.  Every pastor who introduces tension must be prepared to receive at least as much as she gives.  But this is a good thing.  Imagine the leader who returns to you and says, “I want to start three new small groups. I’m willing to recruit those leaders if you’re willing to train all of us.” Or imagine the mayor who responds to the tension our organization introduced into the room by coming back with, “I’m prepared to double afterschool funding, but I need you to meet with these five council people and pressure them to vote for my budget.”

Such leadership expands the involvement of all involved, asks more from everybody, and when directed by prayerful discernment, delivers more for the kingdom of God.

Admittedly this kind of agitation is an art, not a science.  Tension is only as effective as the strength of the relationships that bear it.  There is a fine line between effective agitation that challenges people to act in ways that are consistent with what they say is important to them, and irritation that poisons relationships unnecessarily.  But while irritation is never a good thing, neither is a boring church that never expects anything of its own members.  The best way to learn how to navigate tension is to practice it, evaluate it, and try again.

AFCAndrew Foster Connors is the pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, MD. He is co-chair of the NEXT Church Strategy Team and co-chair of the IAF community organization, BUILD.