Celebrating Juneteenth with news of Brethren actions, statements, and opportunities

Photo courtesy of Christy Waltersdorff

Today is Juneteenth, an annual celebration of the day the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the whole population of the United States. People who were still enslaved in Galveston, Texas, received the news of their freedom on June 19, 1865–some two-and-a-half years after the proclamation was made on Jan. 1, 1863. Juneteenth is a celebratory holiday promoting and cultivating knowledge and appreciation of African-American history and culture, freedom and achievements, while encouraging continuous self-development ( Juneteenth.com ).

To join in this celebration, Newsline shares some of the recent actions, statements, and opportunities from Church of the Brethren congregations, pastors, and church members, and the denomination’s Intercultural Ministry:

— “Join us for a Critical Cultural Competency Workshop hosted online by Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism,” says an invitation from LaDonna Nkosi, director of the Church of the Brethren Intercultural Ministry. “Space is filling up quickly. Be welcome to join us!” The all-day workshop is on Wednesday, June 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central time) with a lunch break from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. (Central time). “This workshop is designed to help participants create the spaces to be self-reflective about our cultural shaping as individuals and institutions, understand the power dynamics in society that impact us, develop the skills to interrupt old patterns and inequitable practices that limit access and exclude some people from our institutions, build trust and clear communication and begin to understand how to make decisions based on multiple perspectives where all people can be heard and represented,” said an announcement of the event. This interactive workshop will be hosted by two facilitators on Zoom, a link will be sent to participants before the workshop starts, and participants will be sent materials before the workshop that can be printed or accessed digitally. Register and purchase tickets at www.tickettailor.com/events/crossroadsantiracismorganizingtraining/382741# . There are some scholarship funds available from the Intercultural Ministry office, contact lnkosi@brethren.org .

— A Black Lives Matter Statement from Harrisburg (Pa.) First Church of the Brethren begins: “As followers of Jesus we stand in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters enduring racial violence and systemic oppression.” It goes on to denounce racism resulting in police brutality, mass incarceration, and unjust legal systems that disproportionately harm black and brown people, and “the evil principalities and powers at work in our world that seek to kill, steal, and destroy people made in the image of God.” The congregation committed itself to “doing justice and peacemaking in the way of Jesus” and confessed the times “we as a church have been complacent about the suffering of others, we confess our complicity. By God’s grace we repent and courageously align ourselves with the Spirit’s activity and the Messiah’s reign on earth. And in obedience to God we seek to set things right where every valley is lifted up and every mountain is made low. Jesus teaches us how to struggle against oppression through his example of standing in solidarity with those who were considered ‘the least’ and ‘the last’ in his society. And because Jesus affirmed that poor people’s lives mattered, that Samaritans’ lives mattered, and the lives of those crucified by Rome mattered, we affirm that black and brown lives matter too, and are precious to God.” The statement concluded with commitments to particular actions including “creating intentional intergenerational space where the stories of our black and brown brothers and sisters are received with love…deepening our understanding of the history and present systems of racism in the United States, as well as the complicity of the western church in the legacy of white supremacy…taking public action because we are called to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” Find the statement online at https://docs.google.com/document/u/2/d/1YsiikuWxlstmKFRFbt62v0nj8wKdqNwDWCWKIL3TNt4/mobilebasic .

— Intercultural Ministries has begun offering Facebook Live conversations between various Church of the Brethren leaders and LaDonna Nkosi, director of Intercultural Ministries. So far, conversations have taken place with Annual Conference director Chris Douglas, Thriving in Ministry Progam director Dana Cassell, and a group of pastors and youth pastors about healing racism resources. The page also features a video statement from La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren pastor Susan Boyer and the statement from First Harrisburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren, among other helpful resources. Go to www.facebook.com/interculturalcob .

— La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren has issued a statement naming the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd as showing “the continued disregard by law enforcement and the judicial system in our society when serving and protecting our African-American and minoritized communities…. The La Verne Church feels that the continued ignorance of these issues is contrary not only to the laws of our land, but to the fundamentals of a Christian faith our leaders profess our country was founded upon. As a member of one of the three historic peace churches, this congregation strongly condemns not only the actions above, but society’s willing acceptance of these acts.” The congregation issued a call to other Church of the Brethren congregations “to stand with us to jointly condemn these acts and call out racial injustice in their communities. The La Verne Church calls upon our Brethren colleagues to continue to be guided by the 1991 Report of Committee on Brethren and Black Americans (Hayes, et al., 1991) that calls out ‘racism as a sin–a sin again God and against our neighbors–and mount a concerted effort to combat it.’” The statement highlighted one particular recommendation out of the 14 in that Annual Conference report: “We recommend that congregations stand in solidarity with black Americans and other victims of racial hate by speaking out against overt expressions of racially motived violence and offering assistance to its victims.” It closed by committing to the work of anti-racism “for the long haul, even when acts of racial injustice are not in the headlines. We are committed to continual education of ourselves and others. We are committed to participate in and stand in solidarity with racial justice coalitions locally and nationally. We are committed to dismantling racism through our actions, words, relationships, and practices.”

— A “Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington” is planned for this weekend as “the largest digital gathering of poor, dispossessed, and impacted people, faith leaders, and people of conscience,” said organizers. The event sponsored by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and a variety of other partner groups, is recommended by the Church of the Brethren Intercultural Ministries. It takes place three times this weekend: Saturday, June 20, at 10 a.m. (Eastern time); Saturday, June 20, at 6 p.m. (Eastern time); and Sunday, June 21, at 6 p.m. (Eastern time), for the purpose of “sharing stories, demands, and solutions of poor and dispossessed people across every line of division,” said an announcement. Discussion will focus on “the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, militarism and a war economy, ecological devastation, and a distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.” Also addressed will be how society “ignores the needs of 140 million people who are poor (or are a $400 emergency away from being poor).” Broadcasts will be interpreted into Spanish and ASL (American Sign Language) and will be open captioned in English. Go to www.June2020.org .

— Walt Wiltschek, pastor of Easton (Md.) Church of the Brethren, was one of the faith leaders in the local ministerium to sign an open letter to the community published in “The Democrat Star” newspaper. “We write to condemn the brutal murder of George Floyd of Minneapolis and to commit to working toward a more just and equitable future,” the letter said, in part. “The risk of police brutality makes living as a person of color dangerous. Protests, vigils and letters help us to express anger and grief, yet alone they will not change the learned behavior of racism. In order to curtail violent acts based on skin color, policies should be changed, and practices and behaviors should be punished so that inequities can be abated…. Our respective faith traditions call us to be accountable to one another and to the greater power that holds us together,” the letter said, concluding with questions to challenge the community: “How are you being changed by Mr. Floyd’s death? How will these past two weeks guide your time and attention, and sharing of resources this next year? How will you help end racism? Since seeing these images, has anything changed in you? As we hold the memory of Mr. Floyd in our prayers, we fall short if we leave these questions unanswered.” Read the full letter at www.stardem.com/print/lettereditor/an-open-letter-to-the-talbot-county-community/article_97482bc7-b740-5687-9fb3-6718287e3dc7.html .

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