In response to the violent clashes between white supremacists and counter demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va., that left a woman dead and 19 injured, the national leadership of the United Church of Christ issued this Pastoral Letter:
Dear Members, Friends, Clergy, and Leaders of and within the United Church of Christ,
The Officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers have both composed a Pastoral Letter and a set of liturgical pieces. We share both with you now, and invite you to read the letter in your service of worship, add it to your website or social media pages, or print it in your newsletter or bulletin. Please feel free to incorporate any or all of the liturgical pieces in this week’s worship.
Last weekend, a group of white supremacists came to Charlottesville, Virginia, and incited violence to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. Although protest is the bedrock of our nation’s democracy, coming in riot gear proves that they intended to do more than simply protest.
We, the Council of Conference Ministers and Officers of the United Church of Christ, strongly condemn the acts of violent hatred expressed by these white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan members. Their white robes and burning crosses were replaced with polo shirts, khakis, and tiki torches, while their lynching was replaced with a speeding car barreling through a group of peaceful protesters with the intention of harming and killing others, which it did. Their vitriolic hatred is the same.
We confess that the events of Charlottesville are systemic and communal expressions of white privilege and racism that continues to pervade our nation’s spiritual ethos. And if we only condemn the acts of August 12, 2017, without condemning the roots of racism, which perpetuate discrimination in our American schools, justice system, business, and healthcare systems, then we have sinned as well. We must work toward the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth now for the sake of a just world for all.
We do this by committing to follow the ways of Jesus, who stood with the oppressed, spoke out against political and religious powers, and courageously embodied a just world for all as he sought to create it. Today, we must follow the ways of Jesus in addressing the hatred of white supremacists and racists among us.
Our local UCC churches must be true solidarity partners with those who march in the streets. Our UCC churches are encouraged to move from the sanctuary and walk alongside other clergy and community leaders who seek to resist, agitate, inform, and comfort. We must resist hatred and violence. We must also agitate ourselves, and our neighbors to acknowledge any racism within or among us. We must inform ourselves, and our neighbors what our sacred stories reveal to us of a just world for all. We must lament and grieve with those who are injured or murdered during violent confrontations with those who mean us harm. And we must comfort those who have been discriminated against with the transformative love of God.
As we go forward, let us model the legacy of activism through our sacred call given to us by our UCC ancestors: May we be prophetic truth-tellers like our Congregational Christian forebears, who marched in public squares demanding equality for all. May we serve others, and remain faithful witnesses like our Evangelical and Reformed forebears, who tended to the needs of the forgotten. And may we be courageous like our non-UCC forebears, who left their spiritual home and joined the UCC in order to fully live out who God created them to be.
In the days to come, may God’s truth, mission, and courage be our guide to embodying the Kin-dom of Heaven here on earth.
Call to Worship:
L: We gather to worship the God of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar – author of all life, whose children are beautiful no matter the color of their skin or their place of origin.
All: This God of love deserves our songs of praise!
L: We gather to worship the God of Jesus, who raised him from the dead so that all might have abundant life.
All: This God of life is worthy of our faithful devotion!
L: We gather to worship the God of Sojourner and Martin, calling forth prophets in every age to speak truth in love to power.
All: This God of justice moves still among us. May we open ourselves today to hear God’s voice and respond with our full measure of commitment to the causes of love and justice.
Call to Confession:
The prelude plays. Announcements are made. Call to worship, invocation, hymn, confession. Wait, confession? Yes confession. Let’s stay with confession a little longer this morning. Confession needed: For times when we have been silent; For our complicity with our nation’s support for racism; For our timid faith in sacred spaces; For wearing the mask of kindness but harboring hatred within our hearts; And for a broken world in need of love. For viewing people as less than equal when God called them very good. For pretending not to see racism and hiding in comfort. For our condemnation of evil within and without, and for inaction when our presence was needed.
Lord in your mercy, Hear our prayer. No jumping too quickly to the assurance of pardon and a quick singing of the Gloria Patri today. Stand still in Confession and linger in Lament.
Prayer of Confession:
God of peace,
give us the courage, strength and perseverance needed,
to challenge the systems of racism,
so that we can clear a path for your justice, peace, and equity.
We believe racism is present
in our society and in our church,
and throughout time has manifested itself in many forms and in varying degrees.
We know racism is alive
in our language and in our structures,
and through our systems it actively works to deconstruct your glorious design,
blocking the path to justice, equity, and peace that Jesus brings.
Racism exists, and it challenges the gospel message that we cry.
We cry abundant life for all,
knowing that we are slowly being suffocated by the pervasive evil of racism:
some of us are choking;
some of us cannot breathe;
some of us are dead.
We cry peace,
knowing that we are the instruments of God’s peace
and that such peace cannot exist without justice, equity, compassion, and God’s grace.
We cry Emmanuel, God with us,
knowing that to God, every life matters—God is with all people—
even though as a community and as a society
we have stated through our actions that some lives matter more than others.
Help us to understand how racism finds life in our hearts and in our cries.
In this time of tense anticipation,
may we commit ourselves to be people of your way
crying and creating a path for justice, equity, and peace
for all people in this wilderness of hatred and racism.
—a prayer for Black History Month by Alydia Smith
Holy Spirit of the Living God, as we gather today let us seek to follow the ways of Jesus modeled to us in our UCC ancestors. As we go forward, let us model the legacy of activism through our sacred call given to us by our UCC ancestors. May we be prophetic truth-tellers like our Congregational Christian forebears, who marched in public squares demanding equality for all. May we serve others, and remain faithful witnesses like our Evangelical and Reformed forebears, who tended to the needs of the forgotten. And may we be courageous like our non-UCC forebears, who left their spiritual home and joined the UCC in order to fully live out who God created them to be. In the days to come, may God’s truth, mission, and courage be our guide to embodying Beloved Community here on earth.
As you leave these hallowed walls and go forth to love neighbor and build a just world for all, may you see with the eyes of our Creator that all God’s children are beautiful and deserving of love and respect; may you reach out in love to all with the arms of Jesus, with no regard for race, creed, or homeland; and may you be accompanied by their Holy Spirit so that you may be sustained as you commit to your part of the ongoing courage in the struggle for peace and justice.