Archive | June 2019

The Needy: Our Duty Is To Help

There have always been needy people in Worthington, although many people think that there are no poor or homeless people within our surrounds.

However, as the economy stays stagnant or experiences a decline, churches become easy prey for those who are looking for a handout. Saint John’s regularly sees people looking for assistance, particularly on Sundays, when most other services are closed.

We have been commanded by Jesus to:

“Feed my sheep”. (John 21:17)

And we are reminded

whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40)

The majority of homeless or needy men and women are not dangerous — they’re people just like us, but circumstances have resulted in them being needy. It could happen to every one of us under the right conditions. They are our brothers and sisters.

When a person requests assistance it is not our duty to determine if the request is legitimate, or if they are panhandling. We are told to take care of their needs. But there are ways to care for these people that can satisfy their need in constructive ways.

Worthington Resource Pantry
The Worthington Resource Pantry provides assistance to those in need on a regular basis, and Saint John’s does a terrific job of supplying those goods that they identify they need. Become aware of where the Pantry is located (6700 Huntley Road, 985-1766), and what their hours are (see www.worthingtonresourcepantry.org). The Pantry not only provides food, but also is a source of information for additional available services. You might want to think about volunteering at the Pantry, especially if you have children. And continue to donate food items that are listed in the weekly bulletin.

When approached by a needy person,

  1. Smile and politely decline any requests for money. But we can still show love and offer to lift them up in prayer.
  1. DO NOT, DO NOT give money to children! Giving money to children is like paying their families to keep them out of school. It is, in a way, a type of human trafficking.
  1. If you have the time, listen to their story. That may be more important to them than receiving what they ask for.
  1. Give them tangible things – some people keep McDonald’s gift cards in their purse or car. This will provide them with a meal; it is usually less than $5 to provide a filling meal at McDonald’s; or offer to take them for a meal and you pay for it.
  1. Carry some Care Kits in the car; these Ziploc bags contain essentials that are hard to acquire if you are homeless or needy. A typical Care Kit could contain any of the following: water bottle, socks, granola or cereal bar, fruit snack or applesauce cup, cheese/peanut butter crackers, handiwipes (avoid hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content), Kleenex, maxi pads for women, toothbrush and toothpaste, Chapstick, brush and comb, unscented soap, travel shampoo and conditioner, disposable razors, gum or mints (preferably sugar-free). It might be an opportunity for some education of children and teens to have a party to assemble these kits. There is a flyer on the Information Table about creating Care Kits.
  1. If they need money for medication, take them to a pharmacy and pay for the prescription drugs. The pharmacist will verify the legitimacy of the drug to avoid supplying drugs that would be sold on the street.
  1. Carry information about services that are available for those in need. Columbus generates a ‘street card’ which identifies places and times for services. Ask the church to keep a stack of these on the Information Table.

In dire emergencies, the rector has a discretionary fund which can be used for emergency needs, but it is not bottomless.

Most importantly, we need to remove the conditions that cause these people to be needy. Call your local legislators and ask that social safety nets be maintained or increased in your city, county and state. Contact local aid agencies to determine what support they need. Remember the old adage:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Our goal, as followers of Jesus, is to remove those obstacles so that everyone has enough food, shelter, and services.

Remember we are all ‘beloved children of God’, regardless of our economic or social status.


 
 
Rev deniray mueller, The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 1 July 2019

Social Justice – Who Better than Deacons?

One of the aspects of the job of the deacon is defined as ‘taking the church to the world, and the world to the church’. This means we are to not only care for the needs of our congregations, but also take the concerns of the church to the wider world – in other words, ‘speak truth to power’.

At the recent meeting of the Association of Episcopal Deacons (AED) Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was our keynote speaker. Just prior to his speech, he heard a reference to “AED” and had an epiphany. AED in the medical world refers to “Automatic External Defibrillator’ – an application of electricity which stops the heart’s arrhythmia, allowing the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm. He suddenly made the connection that deacons “apply electricity of the Holy Spirit” to the world. And he is right! Bishop Curry went on to say that “we need a revival”, and he couldn’t think of “a better group of people more appropriately placed than deacons”. He ‘encouraged’ deacons to begin applying electricity to righting the wrongs in the world at the national and local level.

In the Episcopal Church a deacon exercises “a special ministry of servanthood”, serving all people and especially those in need.[1] Deacons often work directly in ministry to the marginalized inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned. Deacons have specific liturgical responsibilities in the worship that are intended to reflect their role as servants of Christ. These duties include taking the Good News of God’s love to the world (proclaiming the Gospel), bringing the concerns of the world into the church (working with others on the prayers of the people), modeling servanthood (preparing the table) and sending the people of God out to serve the world (proclaiming the dismissal). Ideally, each of these liturgical duties is matched by real world and congregational ministries.[2]

Deacons are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world – in other words, work for social justice.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”. Aristotle, in The Politics, said ‘justice’ ensured that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles and received what was their due from society. Joseph Joubert, a French moralist and essayist, said “Justice is truth in action”.

Who could be against justice? If there’s one thing that the laws and prophets – especially Jesus –agreed on, it is ‘justice for all’, regardless of background or social status. This is one of the main things Jesus did in the world: identify with the powerless, take up their cause.

And who better to take up the cause of social justice than deacons?

Social justice might mean personally taking time to meet the needs of the handicapped, the elderly or the hungry in our neighborhoods. Or it could mean the establishment of new non-profits to serve the interests of these people. It could also mean a group of families from the more prosperous side of town adopting the public school in a poor community and making generous donations of money and pro bono work in order to improve the quality of education there.

When we try to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and calls to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as blessed creations of God. ‘Doing justice’ includes not only the righting of wrongs, but practicing generosity and interest in social concerns, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.

And who better to ‘do justice’ and apply the electricity of the Holy Spirit than deacons?

Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus angrily challenges the religious authorities, mocking them for their self-aggrandizing, self-promoting ways. He alienates the elite by spending time with and showing favor to the poor and marginalized; he talks to women, eats without regard for the dietary rules, he heals those considered unclean and returns them to wholeness. He questions current laws and challenges the status quo. And as a result, he becomes the target of those in authority. Ultimately, those authorities kill him.

Nevertheless, Jesus showed us that there are times when we must stand up and express ‘truth to power’ in constructive, meaningful, unyielding ways despite the possible consequences. Consider how often, and in how many ways, Jesus expressed anger in the Gospels. He was clear and direct, bringing about justice or revealing malice or ignorance. He made no personal attacks, but sought to uncover the evil behind the actions. There is no record of Jesus being angered by a personal offense no matter how wrong, unjust, or violent it may be. He lived and taught that the one who is persecuting us is also created in the image of God and loved by God, and in that reality, we can love our enemy.

And who better to ‘speak truth to power’ than deacons?

Just as God is righteously angered over oppression and injustice, so should we be. Learning how to balance these teachings and actions is a lifelong process for those who choose to follow his ways. The Good Samaritan wasn’t good because of his origins or because he was traveling. Instead, he looked around him, around where he lived and worked and traveled, saw a human in need, and got involved. He gave up time, money, and most likely status and respect in doing so. As he went about his day, he loved someone and righted an injustice.

Deacons are, destined by nature of their calling and ordination vows, to right injustice as well as care for those who are needy.

There are many ways we can be involved in helping set things right. We can advocate for stricter, common-sense gun laws, or work toward offering much-needed services for those suffering with mental illness; we can encourage our governments to shelter the homeless; we can feed those in poverty, visit those in prison, clothe children in need, serve those with special needs; we can work with youth who need an adult mentor. The needs are endless, the injustices everywhere.

This is the time for each of us to ask ourselves: How can our sense of outrage at injustice be channeled into loving action? We, as members of the Association for Episcopal Deacons have an obligation – no, a mandate – to work for social justice, just as Jesus did. We must be angry at instances of injustice, speaking truth in love to our friends, our neighbors, our legislators, our nation and the world.

When we witness wrong done to others, particularly those who do not have the strength or means to defend themselves, then as deacons we need to express the anger of love — the anger that gives us boldness and outspokenness to defend what is right and just.

Jesus’ example and teachings reveal to us that anger, channeled and directed in love, can redirect our anger into positive acts. We open ourselves to the guidance of the spirit of the Holy Spirit to determine how best to express our moral anger, and in all matters, how to speak and act in love.

This kind of direct action is risky because it involves other people, who are also made in the image of God. People about whom Jesus said,

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

The Jesus who said,

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

We need to remember what Micah 6:8 says:

what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

We, as deacons, are called to be a witness to the world of God’s love and Jesus’ teachings.

Are you ready to be the electricity to return the world to its normal rhythm?

Are you ready to take those steps needed to carry out the teachings of Jesus?

Are you ready to:

strive to do justice,

         love kindness and

            walk humbly with God’?

 

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 543.
[2] Episcopal Diocese of Maine

 

Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison, Diocese of Southern Ohio

WHO or WHAT is The Holy Trinity?

John 16:12-15

As you know, Bishop Price was scheduled to make a visitation today, and I usually accompany him when there is not a deacon present. Unfortunately, Bishop Price became ill and has just been released from the hospital. I don’t know any details, but it appears he will have surgery in the near future. I am asking that we all hold and Mariann in our prayers.

This service is going to be a little different than ones you are used to because as a Deacon, I can’t consecrate the host. But, by permission of Bishop Price, and because you have reserved sacrament, I will be able offer a slight modification of the Eucharist. Thank you for being understanding as we proceed.

I have to thank you, Whit, who managed to print out a sermon for me. We can thank the wonders of modern technology that I could pull up a sermon from the cloud and he could print it! And thanks to your organist, Sheryl Wise, who doodled on the organ until I could get it together.

I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the first sermons I delivered Saint John’s Worthington, without realizing when I agreed to preach, was Trinity Sunday in 2011. I have to tell you, of all the Sundays in the year, this is the one that makes even the most seasoned priest quake in their shoes. This is probably the most difficult to preach on because the concept of the Trinity and the concept of ‘three-in-one’ is hard enough to understand for those trained in theology.

There is an inside joke among clergy:

When Father Applegate was figuring out the preaching rota for Saint John’s this year, I told him I would preach on every other Sunday on the calendar, but NOT on Trinity Sunday – I didn’t have anything else to say! He is really going to get a chuckle out of today!

Today is Trinity Sunday. Since Pope John XXII, the western church has set this Sunday aside for reflection on the tremendous mystery of the Trinity. When we sing the words of one of our best-known hymns,

Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Praising the Holy Trinity has been going on for almost 1690 years since Emperor Constantine called 317 bishops from all over the Christian world to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in 325 CE. They settled the question of whether Christ was simply another great prophet and teacher — even a high-ranking angel from God — or was he the divine Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with God?

The church fathers had spent hundreds of years trying to reach agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. And we, as preachers, are supposed to pull something ‘out of the hat’ that explains the Trinity as a matter of fact. I will say, since 2011, I have been studying and researching, bound and determined that I would purposely select this Sunday and give my best try at explaining the Trinity. . .

may I leave you with some understanding and no more confusion than you had before.

I have come to the conclusion, after almost eight years of studying, that we CAN NOT fully explain the Trinity… we can only speak of things that we can understand that might suggest the Trinity.

Did you know that Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the entire Christian Calendar which celebrates a doctrine; and it is an unfinished doctrine, a mystery that is not completed or understood. And many would say that there is reason that only one doctrine is celebrated; because nobody wants to hear a sermon on a doctrine.

But today is Trinity Sunday — what on earth could I say about the Trinity that was new?! How do I even begin to explain the mystery? So, it came to me — I CAN’T explain the mystery. No one can. No one has the ability to fathom the mystery, so we express it in symbols — and we look around the church and find Trinitarian symbols.

A doctrine by its nature is an abstraction – never referenced directly in scripture; others still, would state that the Trinity is the most unattainable doctrine of them all.

There are two concrete facts about the Trinity:

  • There is no reference in the Bible to “Trinity”
  • There is no reference in the Bible to the Triune God.

The Trinity has been explained in many ways from very heavy philosophical ideas to picture metaphors like a three-leaf clover. With any of these, it is important to remember that none of them describes God in his very being or essence. That cannot be done. The Trinity is a statement of how God relates, not how God is. When it comes to our relating to God, we can’t pin God down to one thing or one way. When we consider one way to view God there is always another way. But why three, as in the Trinity? Who knows? But we do know that just as we can’t pin God down to one of our simplistic ideas, we also can’t pin God down to three either, or any one of the three.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have striven to express this triune understanding of the oneness of God’s in various ways. The underlying belief is that God’s very being is reflected in his creation.

  • Augustine spoke of the Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and the Love shared between the two (Spirit)
  • John of Damascus was one among many early church fathers who spoke of water that bubbled up from a spring, flowed into a river, and reached its source in the ocean. Water is one, yet spring, river, and ocean are distinctive expressions of it.
  • Martin Luther spoke of the root, trunk, and fruit of a tree as the living God traceable in his creation. He spoke of iron in a blacksmith’s shop that would glow, burn, and place its stamp on wood.
  • The Desert Fathers (the two Gregorys and Basil) compared the members of the Trinity to the source of light (Father), the light itself that illumines (Son), and the warmth when you feel the light (Spirit)

Can we be like God? Remember, we are the image of God. In that image we also cannot be pinned down to one way of relating. We are all many things. What wonderful surprises we all are, just as God is always a wonderful surprise.   God is everywhere; look at the beautiful sunset. God is there. Look at the home destroyed by a tornado. God is there. God is in the tears of joy and in the tears of sorrow.

St. Augustine, one of the most astute thinkers the Christian Church has ever produced, was walking along the seashore one day while pondering the doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He seemed to hear a voice saying, “Pick up one of the large sea shells there by the shore.” So he picked it up. Then the voice said, “Now pour the ocean into the shell.” And he said, “Lord, I can’t do that.” And the voice answered, “Of course not. In the same way, how can your small, finite mind ever hold and understand the mystery of the eternal, infinite, Triune God?”

The Holy Trinity is not a debatable doctrine: it is an icon, a window into God. It is a parable, a paradox that invites us to behold the mystery of the Divine. All these efforts to help us in our understanding of God do not explain him in completeness, they keep us mindful of a mystery – an essence that comes through to us in a tri-fold fashion. We have the Trinity, the Three in One.

God the Creator: called Father, not because God is a male – God is beyond all gender, male or female – nor because the first person of the Godhead is like a father. We call the first person Father because this is the Father of the Son and the source of the Spirit. We call the first person of the Godhead “Father” because that is what Jesus called him and taught us to call him. Through Jesus, the One Jesus called “Abba Father,” is also “Our Father” – who is the source of all that has ever been, is, or will ever be created.

God the Redeemer: we call the second person of the Godhead “Son” because he comes from the Father, was sent by God to us, to be God with us, to live out his life with us and for us, as one of us. He was not a hologram; he was flesh and blood. He was the greatest gift from God who saved the world, all of creation, all of US, through His living, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection. We know Jesus as the Son not only because he was of the flesh, but as the Gospel of John confesses, because of his life lived out in obedience to his Father (John 4:34).

God the Sanctifier: When Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised another Advocate – the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit–the presence of God would be with us (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit brings new birth from above, to transform, renew, sustain, to make us children of God. It is the Spirit’s work to make the bread Jesus’ body, and the wine Jesus’ blood to draw us into Christ’s risen. The Holy Spirit is the wireless connection between us and the Son, and us and the Father, because they are “hard-wired” together in the one essence we call ‘God’.

The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, but the Father, creator of heaven and earth. The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, but God in human flesh, sent as the Savior to redeem the world through divine love. The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but God’s presence with us today, the means by which you and I come to experience and know God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three distinct means of God being over us and above us, with us and for us, and in and among us, – three distinct relationships with one another, who are nonetheless one in essence. What one wills all three will, what one does all three do–they work in concert, the three playing their different parts–three voices emerging from the same string at the same time, forming a trio of melodies that harmonize into one glorious sound, in order to accomplish the same purpose–as indivisible in their work as they are in their being–One God in three co-equal persons.

The Trinity is even a statement of our faith: God created us, saved us, and sanctifies us. God invites us back to Him, back to the Creator, back to the Redeemer, back to the Sanctifier. God calls us home, for we are created in God’s image, and God’s image and Spirit are within us. God is the Trinity. God is Unity. God is One. And God wants to share that Oneness in love. Within God, and with each and all of us, God wants to be ONE….WITH US!

This is the mystery of God we celebrate today: God over and above us, God for and with us, God in and among us, One God, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who in the waters of baptism makes us his own, the God who meets us at table to give us the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, the God who is in us and among us, using us to share the good news of his love and purpose for us all.

In the Nicaean Creed we will recite, we affirm that we believe in One God, the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

It would be appropriate for you to say, when trying to understand the Trinity:

“Why bother? I have enough problems with things that I understand, let alone things that I don’t understand.”

Surprisingly, there are THREE good reasons why we should attempt to understand the mystery of the Trinity.

The first reason is that Jesus revealed the Trinity to us. The existence of the Father, of himself, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom He and the Father sent forth upon the apostles. Jesus came and lived among us to teach us, to show us how to live and how to love, He worked miracles and died for our sins and rose from the dead to show us the way to eternal life. So whatever Jesus revealed to us, He revealed for a reason and it is important for us to pay attention to it and try to understand it as best we can.

Secondly, while we cannot grasp the idea of one God – three persons – each of them God, we can recognize that the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the perfect model of harmony and unity, a community of relationship, so perfectly intertwined that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.

The third and most important reason is that in the first chapter of Genesis, humankind, you and I, are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, since Jesus has revealed to us the essence of God as perfect unity, harmony, community and relationship, then the very core of our creation is a call to perfect harmony, community and relationship. This is the real challenge living in a society where individualism is promoted. Nonetheless, we are called to expand our circle of relationship to include more and more people.

We are called to worship the One who created the world. We are called to worship the One who loved the world enough to come into the world and invite us into relationship. We are called to worship the One who comes as Holy Spirit, blowing where it will. This is the Holy Trinity: a mystery we catch glimpses of as we seek to know and love.

A Blessing for Trinity Sunday
In this new season may you know the presence of the God who dwells within your days, the mystery of the Christ who drenches you in love, the blessing of the Spirit who bears you into life anew.

Amen.

Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Newark, OH; 16 June 2019

“To Tell the Truth”: UBE Ambassadors for Healing Pilgrimage

One of the four foundations of the “Becoming Beloved Community” movement is to “Tell the Truth” about the history of churches and racism. To better experience and understand that truth, four women from the central Ohio area joined 48 other “pilgrims” from seven states and the District of Columbia in late May for a pilgrimage to civil rights sites in Alabama. The group, led by The Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart of the DC Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, included other denominations as well. Almost equally divided between African and white Americans, the group also included five clergy and an ELCA deacon. The group was based in Birmingham, with daily trips to sites in Selma and Montgomery as well.

Although words cannot fully express the impact of the trip on each “pilgrim”, a brief review of each day will, perhaps, help impart the scope and intensity of the pilgrimage.

Day 1 – Birmingham
Like all of Alabama and throughout the South following the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation in 1867, Birmingham remained a stronghold of segregation, enforced by customs, “Jim Crow” laws, and violence. From 1950-1962, Birmingham witnessed fifty racially motivated bombings of African American homes, businesses and churches, earning the city the name of “Bombingham”. Segregation was the “norm” in housing, education, and all aspects of public life. In 1963, however, led by a group of local and regional pastors (most notably Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy), a series of strategically planned, non-violent marches were held that captured national attention and led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On our first day, we began by visiting Kelly Ingram Park, the gathering site for the “Children’s Marches”, which had its beginning there. During May 1963 over 1,000 teenagers gathered to march, demanding equal rights for themselves and their parents; all were arrested and jailed. For two more days, thousands of youth gathered to repeat the march until jails were filled for a sixty-mile radius of Birmingham! Attacked by dogs, water cannons, national guardsmen, and police on horseback, the children continued to peacefully march and sing, eventually joined by adults. Finally, the city power structure began to listen – and – responded by beginning the dissolution of segregation laws within the city. Consequently, today Birmingham is the most vibrant and progressive city in Alabama. Kelly Ingram Park provides a walking trail of moving statues and monuments to King, Shuttlesworth, and the African American children. At one point, we were joined by an older gentleman, a deacon from Shuttleworth’s church who had participated in the marches, who passionately explained the intensity and suffering of the 1963 marches.

Just across the street from Kelly Ingram Park is the historic 16th Avenue Baptist Church, which was bombed in September 1963, killing four young black girls. Founded in 1881, the 16th Street Baptist Church is now on the national historic registry, commemorating this tragic event. The young girls, now called “Angels of Change” by the locals, were introduced to us by a church member who knew them. He showed a film about the horrific Sunday event, then spoke eloquently to us about the impact the death of these young martyrs had in accomplishing civil rights reform in Alabama and the nation. We toured the church and left in silence, awed and disturbed by such suffering.

This first day ended with a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where a self-guided tour of displays, videos, films and holographs and a large research library helped to deepen and re-enforce all we had learned.

Days 2 & 3 – Montgomery
Early on each of the next two days, we boarded a chartered bus for Montgomery.

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is located in downtown Montgomery on the campus of Troy University. The museum and memorial is in homage to Rosa Parks, whose bravery in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person, really began the civil rights political movement. Mrs. Parks’ great heroism spawned the 11-month long bus boycott in Montgomery. Once again, a well-planned strategy, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and local African American pastors finally began to break the grip of segregation in Montgomery. It was astounding to learn the detailed planning and discipline exhibited by the over 50,000 black citizens of Montgomery as they maintained this monumental example of non-violent protest.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church and Parsonage, another historic black church established in 1877, was the first pastorate of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he began his ministry. Its basement held the first organizational meetings for the 1955 bus boycott response to Rosa Parks’ arrest. Here we were greeted by two church members who had participated in the Selma marches and other early protests. A visit to the nearby parsonage where Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King lived with their first child, was a moving experience. The house was furnished as it was in the 1950’s, with much of the original furniture. We saw Martin Luther King’s study, the dining table where he held many late-night planning meetings, and the kitchen table where he prayed for guidance and heard God tell him that he would never be alone. On the porch is a plaque denoting the site of one of the many bombings he and his family experienced during the civil rights movement.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is headquartered in Montgomery – and we ended our first day by visiting the fountain (designed by Mia Lin), a moving memorial to heroes of the civil rights movement.

We learned that when the overseas slave trade was banned by the United States Congress in 1808, Montgomery became the center of the domestic slave trade. In 1857, there were more slave auction sites in Montgomery than hotels and churches. Within a few short blocks, one can see the marker of the Confederacy White House, the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, and the corner where Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the Cleveland Avenue bus.

On day two we visited two projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), found in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson. The EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. In addition to securing the reversal, relief, or release of over 125 wrongly convicted people on death row, the EJI has raised consciousness nationally about the continued persecution of black Americans starting with lynchings, through “Jim Crow” segregation, to today’s mass incarceration.

The Legacy Museum is located on the site of one of the major warehouses used in Montgomery for the slave trade, where up to 435,000 slaves were contained. Slaves were brought from southern ports, imprisoned in these warehouses and then sold to the highest bidder. When Alabama banned free black people from living in the state in 1833, those remaining were returned to slavery and sold. A beautiful fountain now stands at the site of the major auction block; very few non-people of color know its history!

The Legacy Museum contains alarming panoramas of the civil rights struggle through the 1970’s. The holographs of slaves telling the stories of their separation from members of their family were heart-wrenching. Something that we see again at the Mexican border so many years later.

Videos and testaments of wrongly-convicted prisoners are equally disturbing, not to mention the soil collected from the grounds of hundreds of documented lynching sites in America.

Further down the street near the river docks where thousands of Africans were unloaded from ships for sale stands the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as “The Lynching Memorial, dedicated in 2018. Veiled in silence, this awe-inspiring monument cannot help but leave one feeling anguished and guilty about what white supremacists perpetuated on our African American brothers and sisters for over 400 years. Hanging obelisks are displayed by county and display the names of those African Americans who were lynched there from 1857 through 1950. The verified count is over 4,400 men, women and children. What is not taught in Ohio history is that 18 African Americans were lynched in Ohio!

Day 4 – Selma
On our final day we traveled to Selma, site of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the historic march for voting rights in 1965. We visited the Brown Chapel AME Church, which was instrumental as a meeting place for the protests that finally culminated in the Civil Rights Act. A gathering place for many young protestors, these students would skip school to participate in non-violent protests. We were fortunate to have guides at the church who were children at the time and participated in these marches.

They reminded us that there were three marches protesting restrictions on voting in 1965, making the 54-mile trek from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Since the Birmingham marches in 1963, there had been renewed efforts to register African American voters, resulting in clashes with Southern white supremacists and Alabama law enforcement. By January 1965, over 3,000 people had been arrested. In early February Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being shot by a state trooper and this lit the powder keg. On March 7, 1965, 600 protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were attacked by state troopers and vigilante men with billy clubs and tear gas. This day will be forever known as “Bloody Sunday”. The violence at the bridge and subsequent murders resulted in a national outcry and many clergy from other parts of the country came to the South. Protest officials issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of civil rights movement activities, and shocked by the television images of “Bloody Sunday,” hundreds of people responded to the Southern Christian Liberty Conference’s call. One of the men who traveled from Massachusetts was Johnathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, who was later killed while trying to register voters. The second march was March 9, 1965; Martin Luther King, Jr. took the people to the end of the bridge, and when the state troopers did not stop them, he and the marchers returned to the church.

As a result of the violence and confrontations, President Lyndon Johnson sent 1,900 national guard, federal agents and marshals down to ensure the safety of the marchers. A final march left Selma on March , making 10 miles a day, along the “Jefferson Davis Highway” (U.S. Route 80), and arriving on the steps of the capitol on March 25, 1965. Over 25,000 people entered Montgomery supporting voting rights. The Voting Rights Act became law on August 6, 1965. Sadly, today many states are chipping away at the voting rights granted in 1965, including a random “voter purge” here in Ohio, that seeks to disallow over 2 million voters.

At the end of each day, our pilgrimage group met to share thoughts and experiences from what we had seen and heard. These sessions brought even more understanding to the white “pilgrims” of the challenges and heartaches every person of color in our society faces daily – as well as the role our “white privilege” plays in perpetuating their sorrow and struggle. We grew to know one another better, relationships were formed, and the beginnings of a “Blessed Community” were truly sown.

Observations
The pilgrimage to Alabama proved to be a life-changing experience for its participants, and each left determined to continue the work of cleansing our society of racism, and of unifying all of our citizens in love and community. We gained a new appreciation for the civil rights movement as a major force for human freedom in our country and the world, and we came to admire anew the courage and spiritual strength exhibited by those thousands of African American citizens who comprised the movement.

We made several observations about the movement and the work ahead that will drive our future endeavors if we are to be “ambassadors of healing”.

  1. It is imperative that we fight against the return to stringent voter restrictions at the state and federal level. Write letters, call your senators and representatives at the state and federal level.
  1. We must actively participate in registration of potential voters and participate in our election process by voting, serving as poll workers, and assisting people getting to the polls.
  1. Each of us needs to learn the history of the subjugation of African Americans and all people of color that our schools have often deliberately chosen to exclude.
  1. We need to build personal relationships with African Americans, building bridges of understanding experiences for all.
  1. We need to fully participate in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “Becoming Beloved Community” as a means to reach racial reconciliation, and finally, the healing of our society.

Birmingham is a vibrant city, attracting new industry and growing, partially because they chose to do away with the old “Jim Crow” legislation and grant African Americans the rights of white Alabamians. Montgomery and Selma appear to be dying cities, probably because of the refusal of their white citizens and leaders to embrace change and work for the good of over half of their population: their African American citizens! And so it is with our nation. We can flourish fully as a society only if we work for the common good of all of our people; when any are suffering and deprived, so are we all, and we can only become a truly good and prosperous nation and world when we care for the freedom and welfare of all of God’s children. To do this work will be to become a “Beloved Community”.

For further information, these websites may be helpful:

Equal Justice (https://eji.org/)

Rosa Park Library and Museum (https://www.troy.edu/student-life-resources/arts-culture/rosa-parks-museum/index.html)

Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org/)

The Legacy Museum (https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/museum)

The National Memorial for Peace & Justice (https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial)

United States Civil Rights Trail (https://civilrightstrail.com/)
 
 

Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison & Dr Karen Peeler, Saint John’s Worthington, Connections, 1 June 2019