Marty Kuchma, Senior Pastor
And we’re off! Or at least we soon will be, on the adventure of another church-year! I always find this time of the year to be very exciting. In some ways it feels to me like we are starting a big jet engine that winds up slowly at first then gets moving with great speed and force.
Last month, I mentioned two possible major initiatives for the year we are now beginning. The first is the celebration of St. Paul’s 150th Anniversary. Doug has pulled together an awe-some crew to lead the way with that, including several lifetime members of the church. I have even heard that Thom Ballantine will be adding his considerable knowledge of St. Paul’s history. At this point, we will plan to do a 150th Anniversary Moment during services at least once a month, to host other special events and learning opportunities, and to have a big blow-out anniversary celebration in the Spring. Along the way, we will trace St. Paul’s evolution from a Reformed church, to an Evangelical and Reformed church, to the United Church of Christ, and we will hope to sort out what all of that means for us now. We will remember great moments in church history and honor the people who have helped St. Paul’s be what it’s been, even as we look to a bright and bold future informed by that past.
I will say that one of the things that still strikes me about the history of this congregation is how a relatively small number of families had the utter audacity to build a 220-seat Sanctuary from the very start. They built it and people came indeed! What does it mean to have that audacious spirit as our collective heritage?
And as we consider what kind of future we will make, we will engage in a pro-gram to become an Anti-Racism Congregation within the United Church of Christ. I proposed that idea in last month’s Highlights and, as Church Council met this past Tuesday to talk about it, we were aware of only support for doing this important work. A number of folks from across the Congregation even remarked that the topic is timely, and they affirmatively expressed enthusiasm for the idea and said they want to be active participants.
Of course we will take great care as we move into this project, and we will keep talking and listening all together along the way. We will be mindful that racism is a tender topic, and we will proceed accordingly. That said, dealing with racism is a challenging process that requires courage and a certain amount of leaning into discomfort. Judy Jones, the Equity Supervisor for Carroll County Public Schools, calls people into “courageous conversations.” We will set the stage for those here also. Among many other things, we will compare and contrast equality and equity and realize that the latter creates clearer pathways for people to live their dreams.
As we begin the year, I invite anyone to come forward who would like to be on the Anti-Racism Leadership Team. Much like with WISE, the Anti-Racism Leadership Team will help us deliberately think through what we can do to deepen and broaden our understanding of racism, facilitate programming (e.g., themed services, possible monthly Congregational Conversations, maybe book studies and film screenings, sponsored speakers, etc.), and help draft an Anti-Racism Covenant to be voted on in the Spring.
One of the starting assumptions for this initiative is that racism is systemic; it goes beyond one person making racist comments and requires a clear-eyed look at the way the world works to advantage some and disadvantage others. We will acknowledge that saying such things is not intended, and ought not to, induce guilt or negative feelings in anyone, but to illuminate reality in ways that can bring meaningful insight and spark meaningful action. We are all products of a system that went demonstrably off course on August 20, 1619, 400 years ago this week, when the first slave ship arrived on American shores.
A second starting assumption is that it is not enough to not be racist. Indeed in a new book, Ibram X. Kendi writes that there are either racists or anti-racists. His premise is that there is no middle ground. We will talk about that, walk around it, dig into it, and see how and where we come out on the other side. His book would be a great book group focus, and he is local enough that we might be able to get him to come to town to talk about his ideas. And of course, I expect that we will draw heavily on our extensive network of relationships with local organizations and people who are also committed to anti-racism. And we will do what we can to draw from National, Conference- and Association-wide racial justice efforts in which Erin and I are already involved.
The time is right to engage in this process. No doubt making a difference to end racism is long past overdue. Sure we have seen incremental progress over the years, and decades and even centuries. But the time is right for a paradigm shift that moves us closer as a community, a nation, and a planet to ensuring that every person genuinely has every opportunity, and that all people know the universal love of God experienced in real and tangible ways in their daily lives.
In the end, we can ask what difference doing this work in one small place can actually make. We will not know until we try…
This is, of course, necessarily something we can only do together, and the value of the work will be influenced by all of our willingness to engage in it. So let’s do that, and make the most of this wonderful opportunity.