By: Christa Meland June 04, 2020
“How many steps will we have to take until we get equity and equality? How many more marches will have to take place until the knee of oppression has been lifted?”
Those are the questions that were going through the mind of Rev. Dr. Shawn Moore during a silent march in St. Paul Tuesday afternoon. As he marched, Moore answered his own question a short time later: as many as it takes.
Moore was among more than 30 Minnesota United Methodist pastors and hundreds of clergy from various faith traditions who participated in the march, organized by Twin Cities African American clergy and Presiding Elder Stacey Smith of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Clergy attendees were invited to attend to bear witness for justice and stand in solidarity with African American colleagues. (View photos submitted by Minnesota United Methodists.)
The march was led by black clergy, including Moore, with white clergy following as a symbol of “having their backs.”
It began in South Minneapolis, along 38th Street and ended at the intersection of Chicago Avenue, where George Floyd died May 25 at the hands of a police officer. A short time later, marchers headed to St. Paul and walked in the middle of a temporarily closed University Avenue, ending at a boarded-up Super Target.
‘United in hope’
Moore serves The Beloved, a United Methodist faith community in St. Paul. As a clergyperson, a former military security specialist, a former police officer, and a black man, he said he finds himself “in the inside and the outside at the same time.”
Another question he pondered while marching: What is my part to play? “We all have a part to play in the work towards justice as it relates to race,” he said. “What was mine? I thought something new would spring forth, but it didn’t. All I heard was ‘stay consistent.’” (Read Moore’s full reflection.)
Rev. Dr. Ronald Bell Jr.—who leads Camphor Memorial UMC in St. Paul—marched alongside Moore. What he saw was black clergy who were exhausted. He explained that the previous week, the mayor’s office had called every black pastor in St. Paul, including Bell, to report that there was evidence that white supremacist groups planned to infiltrate and co-opt peaceful protests in order to destroy black churches and businesses. Each black pastor was asked to board up their church as quickly as possible to protect it from destruction—and each one raced to find material, secure help, and get the job done. They showed up for each other to offer assistance.
“On the day of the clergy march…what I felt and what I saw were black clergy who were united in our tiredness,” he said. “United in our weariness from the events of the preceding week. United in our trauma of having witnessed the death of George Floyd that triggered decades of latent racialized trauma living within us.”
But he saw something else too—something holy and profound: “We are also united in hope—a hope that not only would justice reign for George Floyd’s family, but that this moment would also be a kairos moment, a moment of change for all of us. A new day where we could begin to march toward healing, march toward equality, and march toward a better community for each of us.”
Called to show up
Other Minnesota clergy attendees said they felt called to show up to support their black colleagues—and many said it was a profound spiritual experience when the hundreds of marchers knelt on the ground at Floyd’s memorial and recited the Lord’s Prayer in unison.
“I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything quite as powerful as that moment,” said Rev. Amanda Lunemann, who serves Silver Lake UMC in Oakdale. “It was a wave of togetherness.”
Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough was among the marchers. He went as a personal and public act of solidarity.
“I learned a long time ago that solidarity is more than community, more than statements and resolutions of support, more than good words,” he said. “Solidarity is taking action, initiating change, making a cause personal…The march was a small, largely symbolic, but important expression of my Christian faith. I thank God for those within the Minnesota Conference who are laying down the pathways for our faithful activity to care for God’s people and eradicate systemic racism.”
Rev. Cullen Tanner, who serves Roots & Branches in Anoka, said he went because he couldn’t stay home. “It’s part of my privilege as a white person in the suburbs that I can choose to be affected by racial injustice when it’s convenient to me,” he said. “But if I truly want to stand in solidarity with people of color, I have to find way to make their fight my fight, especially when it’s inconvenient.”
Rev. Jay Jeong, who serves Mounds Park UMC in St. Paul, marched in order to join the collective call for a more just world. “I went there to add my little voice against the all forms of racism and discrimination,” he said. “This was the quietest and most peaceful protesting I’ve ever participated in and became a loud voice against the all current forms of violence.”
Rev. Melanie Homan, who lives in St. Paul, has spent recent days trying to explain to her kids why police were engaging with protestors on their front lawn, and she watched as her 8-year-old entered the closet to do his homework because he was afraid.
“Recognizing the powerlessness I’ve felt as a parent this week is nothing compared to the parents whose children die in our streets,” she said. “It’s my responsibility as a pastor to show up when asked by others to show up. It’s my moral obligation as a parent to show my children a different way forward.”
Some Minnesota clergy in attendance came from more than 50 miles away.
“I went to listen, learn, and pray,” said Rev. Ralph Holbrook, who serves Mainstreet UMC in North Branch. “What I witnessed was great courage from those black clergy who dreamed and led us.”
While the profound moments differed for everyone, some clergy said it was particularly impactful to march to the site where Floyd was pinned down, which some of them were seeing for the first time.
“As we descended upon the place where George Floyd was killed, I had a feeling I was entering a sacred space,” said Rev. David Stoeger, who serves Preston and Wykoff UMCs. “It was as if I was coming upon the hill where Jesus was crucified, except there was no hill, no cross. There was only a marking of where a man died needlessly by the hands of a similar system that executed Christ. In the presence of people of faith from so many different backgrounds praying on this sacred ground, I realized what I had to offer was insufficient. Yet I was following the call God gave me to lament, to empathize, and support a people whose suffering I would never truly understand.”
Several Minnesota clergy noted how novel and yet powerful it was to be silent and led by their siblings of color.
“How unusual is it for all those white clergy to not take the microphone, to not speak, to not lead, but to walk silently behind our black siblings?” said Rev. Michelle Hargrave, who serves Centenary UMC in Mankato. “This part alone was a spiritual practice we could…practice.”
The marches themselves were short in distance—only a few blocks—but they will have a lasting impact for many who participated.
“Being reminded that I needed to have the backs of colleagues of color was powerful, and I go home with that reverberating in my head,” said Rev. Becky Sechrist, who serves Minnehaha UMC in Minneapolis. “No matter how the concerns of my local congregation consume me, I need to be about the work of having the backs of my black sisters and brothers. And I need to be about the work of creating new systems that deliver justice, not injustice.”
Moore noted that some people have been asking him: What can I do? “The church is a body of many parts,” he said. “What part of the body are you? How are you using that part to work towards justice as it relates to race? In the end, for justice to be fulfilled, we will need to engage in Sawubona (we see you) and Ubuntu (I am because you are).”
Overwhelmingly, marchers went to acknowledge that they have a key role in dismantling racism.
“I know the work of breaking down racism in our community is mine to do,” said Rev. Carol Zaagsma, who serves Portland Avenue UMC in Bloomington. “It’s not mine alone to do…but there is a part of the heavy lifting that is actually mine to do. And I’m not going to leave that part for others to do for me. Marching was my way of publicly acknowledging this responsibility.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.