Wow, so much has gone on these last few weeks both at St. Mark and in the world, and I feel like I need to take some time to communicate the latest highlights of our ministry together. I’m going to give a quick update starting with the most recent events. Keep reading until the end so that you can see what’s coming next.
Saturday June 20th – I asked, and you all answered. We provided a few hundred bottles of water to the Black Lives Matter protest in Ypsi. Not only that, but together financial donations from the congregation exceeded $300! This money went to the costs of putting on the event, and everything extra is being donated to a Black owned business right here in Ypsilanti that has been hit hard by the pandemic.
I am so proud of the physical and financial contributions from our congregation. One of the ways in which systemic racism plays out is economically. White folks make more money than Black folks. This is not an opinion; it is a fact, and it is due to many different systems at play. One of the ways to work toward racial justice involves the “three R’s” – repentance, reparations, reconciliation. By doing the work of acknowledging our complacency and participation in the sin of racism, we are able to move through the first step of repentance (the action of repenting; sincere regret or remorse). Reparation (the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged) involves making wrong things that have happened right and just. Reconciliation (the restoration of friendly relations) is a blessing from God, and those who are harmed get to decide whether or not they feel safe enough to enter into relationship again.
People of St. Mark keep, up this amazing work. Keep your hearts opened. God is doing new and wonderful things through them. I am just so overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness through these times.
Thursday June 18th – Our second fresh produce giveaway took place Thursday evening in our parking lot. We gave away 55 boxes of produce Thursday and another 15+ on Friday at Sugarbrook’s Juneteenth celebration. We also gave away information about our online VBS program coming up in July. (Speaking of VBS, if you haven’t signed your child, grandchild, or loved one up yet there is still time. Follow this link to get signed up: VBS Registration)
Tuesday June 16th – We began the process of installing our new screens in the sanctuary. We worked a few hours each afternoon, and by Friday the installation was complete. The TVs are fully functional. I am so excited to worship in our building when it is safe to return to indoor worship. The cross will be visible the whole time, and our ASL interpreters will have a screen with words to look at during the service! To those who assisted Harley during the installation, thank you for propelling us into the new technological age.
Saturday June 13th – A group of Black pastors in Ypsilanti organized a solidarity march down Washtenaw Avenue. COGIC (Church of God in Christ) leaders, AME (African Methodist Episcopal) leaders, Baptist leaders, non-denominational leaders, ELCA leaders, and countless others that I did not get to meet marched in the street. We answered the call to come together, to pray, and to take action about the sin of racism. Some of us kneeled and while others of us laid with our bodies in the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds – the amount of time that a white police officer pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck rendering him lifeless. This was a powerful moment for leaders of at least four Lutheran churches in our conference to come together and support the efforts of the Black Christian community.
Wednesday May 27th – Our Race, COVID, & the Church discussion was a big hit. Members from St. Philip in Trenton, members from Zion in Ann Arbor, and one member from St. Mark joined in our discussion to learn about how race and COVID intersect. The conversation was inspired by a request from the ELCA congregations in Conference 6/Detroit. Their request is for congregations in the Southeast Michigan Synod to stand in solidarity with Conference 6 congregations who cannot safely reopen their buildings because of COVID-19. Our conversation began with a Racism: 101 Discussion, continued with racist policy and practices here in Michigan, and ended with us talking about our response as the church to this information.
Connecting the Dots – If you didn’t notice, our first discussion about race on May 27th involved one member from St. Mark. In less than a month, the beloved community of St. Mark raised well over $300 for the Movement for Black Lives.*(See comments at the end) It is clear to me that the Holy Spirit is working in our community, otherwise we would not have had this many folks participate in the most recent events. God is faithful, and the people of St. Mark are responding to God’s faithfulness in BIG ways. Thank you for being open to the things God is doing here in Ypsi through our congregation.
Moving forward, the leaders of Conference 10 of the Southeast Michigan Synod – the Washtenaw Conference in which St. Mark resides – have decided to begin a conversation about racism together. Wednesday July 1st, there will be an orientation for our new seven session study by Sparkhouse called Dialogues on Race. The first week of the study will take place on July 8th. You are asked to sign up online before the first session so that you can receive the Zoom information. If you do not have a computer with a camera or a cellphone with Zoom app capabilities, you can still join in this first study by signing up and calling the phone number with your landline phone. I would also like to challenge every member of our congregation to watch the documentary, 13th, on Netflix. If enough folks watch it, we can plan a socially distanced evening for discussion on the church lawn.
A word of encouragement – Talking about race is hard. I have been working to be anti-racist for years now, and I still say the wrong thing more often than I would like. The important thing is that even though we can mess up, we keep working at it. Racism has infiltrated every part of our American lives and there is no one that is exempt – white, Black, or brown. We all live in a society that was built with the power of white men in mind. And let us not forget that every society on earth is steeped in sin – the United States is not exempt from sin that separates humans from God. In this world it is not enough to “not be racist;” in this society we must be anti-racist. We must work to make right all of the places that have been bathed in racism and sin, else our siblings of color will never be able to breathe in this world.
Know that you are not alone on this journey in which we are embarking. Know that this will be painful because we will be called to change the way we have always thought about things. Above all else, remember this verse from Philippians 4:13: “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.” God promises to be with us, even and especially when we are doing hard things.
With love and appreciation,
*The Movement for Black Lives is not new. It goes as far back as the abolitionists who fought to end slavery (and arguably further than that). The movement today is similar to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In other words, the movement today is not a monolithic movement. The Civil Rights Era saw the rise of multiple organizations that fought for rights of Black folks. Some of the groups that were active during the Civil Rights Movement were the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Black Panther Party (BPP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Some of the key leaders and thinkers who paved the way were people such as Dr. King, Diane Nash, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Fred Hampton, John Lewis, and Stokely Carmichael.
Today, more than 150 different organizations such as Black Lives Matter (BLM), the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the National Conference of Black Lawyers (NCBL) make up the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) coalition. Local leaders are rising up everywhere, and when we support them and this movement, we are living out our call as Christians to love God and love others as we love ourselves.