Ephesians 4:1-3, I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (ESV)
From September 2001 until January 2011, I was the Senior Pastor of a predominantly Black PCA church in Fayetteville, a southern suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. That church was a mile away from a “ninety-nine predominantly white PCA church. I am hesitant to use the terms “Black” and “White” in describing the two churches because the use of those terms denies the diversity one encounters amongst people of the same color. My church was Black, but the people were very diverse—Black from the United States, Panama, Haiti, Barbados, Puerto Rico, and Africa. Most of the members of my church believed that their congregation was already diverse. I am sure that there was a similar diversity dynamic working in our sister PCA church up the road. Sadly, in our country, black is black and white is white.
The two churches had a great relationship with each other—we co-sponsored denominational conferences, community youth initiatives, we participated in joint services, and shared building resources. However, there was never an outcry from the leadership or members of either church to join the two congregations into one. Everybody seemed to be fine with the present arrangement. I think I know why—both congregations were under the belief that they each were a self-sufficient, autonomous, representative of the Church of Jesus Christ. They didn’t need to be physically connected or integrated with each other to be validated as a communing body of believers. Each was a particular church. Each had a ruling body of elders.
Speaking as the pastor at the Black PCA church, there was the strong desire to maintain our own worship culture—a Bapto-Presby-Costal worship style encompassing traditional and contemporary Black gospel music, hymns, passionate bible preaching, calling the pastor’s wife “First Lady”, etc. Many at my church said that while they believed in Reformed doctrine and really appreciated the structure and accountability of the PCA, they didn’t relate to many of the PCA churches they had visited. One member stated, “It isn’t my place to tell people how to have church, but after I hear the Word of God, I want to rejoice out loud. PCA churches feel dead.”
The negative effects of racial segregation in the Church’s past are yet exerting force on our efforts to mature in the struggle for racial reconciliation. I am by no means suggesting that the gospel is powerless in this struggle. I am suggesting that we are far from done with the race problem in the North American Church. For hundreds of years, Blacks in America experienced racism and maltreatment in southern and northern white churches, and they were expected to adjust to it because these injustices were legal, and sometimes encouraged as a healthy part of discipling Black people to remember their ontological inferiority.
Eventually, Blacks were allowed or prompted to form their own churches, and this seemed like good compromise. However, this solution – great as it may have seemed for both races – served to solidify the belief that white Christians and Black Christians are better off worshipping apart from each other — that is, intentionally separating so that they might “better” worship the same God who made them all.
Predominantly white Evangelical churches, in the attempt to enter into reconciliation, often don’t realize how much it will cost them or their congregations to pursue racial reconciliation. Don’t get me wrong, these churches are precious to Jesus, He paid for these churches with His blood, I am not talking about their value to the Kingdom. I am talking about a lack of desire for the presence and contributions of non-white people that impacts the church’s work.
Possessing knowledge of God-ordained cultural diversity – in communication, lifestyle, worship expression etc. – is different from expressing joy over that knowledge, and it shows. It shows in welcoming people of different cultural backgrounds, and in teaching congregations that cultural competence is not a special calling reserved for people who “like ethnic things”. A desire to rejoice in God’s “deliberate diversity” (as my brother Jemar Tisby puts it) will eventually lead to a deeper understanding of self among white people. They might begin to see what people of color have in this country have known for centuries. That is, reconciliation is much more than finding the money to pay a “diverse” leadership or to start a “diverse” program or to do a combined worship event. The cost of going “all in” is sacrificing white pre-eminence, sacrificing white control, for the purpose of doing what white Christians have never had to think about as a group: affirming the value and contributions of brothers and sisters of color. People of color are often instructed to prove their collective worth, in history and in theology, while the North American Church has never needed a reminder of the value of white cultures.
Blacks are accustomed to being sub-dominant to whites, so we have had a lot of practice in listening to their viewpoints. But most white Evangelicals in white Evangelical spaces are not accustomed to being told that worship liturgies, music, preaching or involvement in social justice need not be uniform in order to have equal impact. Further, the idea is rarely entertained that social justice and worship practices in a white-centered world might best be reconciled to biblical standards of ethnic unity through the leadership of people of color. The Church cannot uplift the marginalized through strategies developed by the privileged. This is why reconciliation – the development of authentic relationships between divided groups – is so awkward, so messy, and so rare.
In twenty years of working for racial unity, I have most often experienced three phases of racial reconciliation: the all too common “Awkwardly Cordial” Phase, the “Oh Lord Jesus Help Us this is “Awfully Messy” Phase, and finally, the extremely rare “Real Relationship” Phase.
Phase one, Awkwardly Cordial, is where many congregations prefer to camp out. This cordial phase is not bad, it is a necessary beginning. It is where we share a meal or host a Black History event, which itself is radical for some churches. But when the event is over, congregations can choose to retreat into the safe space of customizing our home environments according to personal preference. Though we must begin in phase one, we cannot survive there, because we still think that we are in control of reconciliation. When we spend too much time in phase one, we begin to congratulate ourselves for enduring topics we consider weird, yet avoid the mess of acknowledging that there are deep wounds between us. We cover our divisions by applauding our awkward exchanges. We experience anxiety when communicating across cultural lines begins to feel messy, or tiring. We dislike discomfort.
I am a grandfather now, and even though I love my grandchildren more than I love myself, I can only take so much running, wrestling, horseback rides and children’s programming. I love When I am done, I tell their parents, “I am going upstairs and watch TV.” I want to control how and when I love my family. I want to leave when I am annoyed, instead of working with them (for what seems like forever) to understand me, so we can relate differently.
The cordial but awkward phase is the place where we all begin, but real relationship still lies ahead. The church is not called to be cordial, the church is called to be real. Unfortunately, we live in a country where most prefer that people who worship differently would worship separately. This is not a biblical norm, yet it has become a foundational principle in most churches. In order to change, churches must enter the Awfully Messy phase of reconciling our ignorance, indifference.
This is the phase where the food fight starts, and that’s okay as long as nobody leaves the room. We as God’s children often feel like “I want to go to my room and get out of this mess!”. My friends, there is only one room in this house. This is the phase when church leaders and members must plant their feet and stay in the struggle. By the power of the Gospel we must love one another and speak the truth to one another until we make it through this phase. “Awfully Messy” is the phase where I might ask a white church’s leadership if they understand that diversity means that you have to learn how to shepherd Asian, Black and Latino people; activists and protesters; LGBTQ people. When churches say they want diversity, they should ask themselves if they are willing to make the racial, cultural and emotional sacrifices necessary to actually pay for it. However, too often our labels as conservatives, liberals and more have trumped our relationship with Christ.
When the Real Relationship phase starts we will know it; we won’t be afraid of each other anymore. The hard conversations and the struggles will be there, race and justice will still be big, but our Unity in the Faith, and our Bond of Peace will be bigger, stronger, higher and wider than any issue we face, good and bad. Many goliath-sized problems have for centuries mocked the United States church and dared her to strive – or even hope – for the promised ultimate reconciliation. Goliath will gladly concede Awkward Cordialness, but he will vehemently resist progress into the Messy Phase because he knows that if we as a church endure this phase, we will enter into the rare and real relationship phase, where we disarm the giants of our own arrogance and paranoia. It is these giants that keep us awkward, that keep us presuming each other’s thoughts without asking each other about them.
Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, in their book Divided by Faith, offer what I think is a significant insight to how racial groups define themselves. They state: “In many respects, we know who we are by knowing who we are not. Thus, an in-group always has at least one out-group by which it creates identity.”1 Blacks are not white, Lutherans are not Presbyterians, Evangelicals are not Mainline Christians, Carolina Tar Heels are not Duke Blue Devils. We may not like what they say, but I think this is what has happened. And most divided cultures, at least when it comes to having church, are happy about who they are not.
Ephesians 4:1-3, I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In this text, a prisoner of Christ feels the need to urge us to walk worthy of our calling. I believe Paul urges us to unity because he knows that when we try to build relationships, especially across racial, cultural and perceptions of religious practices, we tend to fight for our right to be right. Paul knows what it is like to be the most impressive person in the room. He really believed that God could not possibly become human and be from a place like Nazareth, and be crucified by Romans, and be raised from the dead by Jehovah, the Jewish God. Brothers and Sisters, if your church feels like a food fight – or even a fistfight – hang in there. The Lord is moving us out of Awkwardly Cordial. It feels nasty, crappy, angry and scary, but hey we asked for it—we claim that we want to truly reflect the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and now we must work on the bond of peace. If you are a church leader, I hope you hear this urging from Paul as a plea to real relationship with those you would label your enemies. Jesus destroyed our divisions in his body, so that our church bodies could be joined together, to become the dwelling place for God.
1. Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America: Oxford, University Press, 2000), 143.
Last Wednesday, many of us gathered (along with our brothers and sisters in the Refugio community) to sing and pray and prepare our hearts to enter the season of Lent. Depending on your background, Lent could mean a lot of different things and I’d imagine some of you are asking “what in the world are we even talking about anyway???”
Well, historically, Lent is the 40-day season (not counting Sundays!) leading up to Easter. Despite it’s reputation as time where people “give up” chocolate or Facebook or something random like that, at it’s best, Lent functions as “the spiritual equivalent of an annual physical exam.” It’s a time for us to take stock of our hearts and lives and ask some pretty pointed questions about our spiritual health.
Though the Bible certainly doesn’t require anyone to observe Lent, many Christians throughout the centuries have found it helpful to set apart this season for a particular focus on repentance, prayer, and, yes, fasting—but more than anything, it’s an opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ call to “take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-26).
That’s something a lot of us could really use these days. If you’re anything like me, it’s so easy to get caught up with responsibilities at home or at work or at church or at school (or… or… or… the list could go on) that spiritual realities end up getting pushed to the margins. Days come and go. Worries ebb and flow. Stuff gets done (or—just as often—not done). And all of a sudden it’s been waaaaay too since I’ve opened my Bible or spent time enjoying God’s presence.
If that sounds anything like you, Lent might be exactly what you need. Whether or not you plan to “give anything up,” I’d encourage you to take some time over the next month or so to take a look at your life and ask how the Lord might be leading you to grow.
Some things you might do:
1) Take 15-20 minutes to read “On Keeping a Holy Lent” by Craig Higgins (not related to Pastor Mike!). I’ve found his reflections to be super helpful and he has lots of great thoughts on how to approach this season with focus and intentionality.
2) If you don’t currently have a regular habit of Bible study, now is a great time to build one! ESV.org has loads of resources and reading plans available online.
3) Consider using a Lenten prayer guide. Joel Littlepage (a friend and former SCC member) put together a great (and free!) devotional for the church he serves, and there’s a book called Seeking God’s Face that I love and use throughout the year.
These are just a few ideas, but the options are literally endless (well, maybe not literally, but you get what I mean). No matter what you plan to do (or not do), I pray that this would be a season for you to taste the Father’s love, soak yourself in the grace of Jesus, and enjoy the Spirit’s fellowship in deep and refreshing ways.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.”
– Hebrews 13:20-21
Grace and peace,
A Letter From Pastor Mike
Sisters and Brothers, Mothers and Fathers:
The Leadership and Staff of our church will enter into a season of strategic planning in an effort to understand where we are, to determine where we are headed as a church, and how we want to get there. We covet and even beg for your prayers as this is a huge task that, frankly, we can’t begin to understand without the power and assistance of prayer. Although we have some pretty smart people in leadership, we are no match for what it will take to lead and care for a church as complex as South City Church has become in the last few years. We have encountered some serious challenges. You might respond to this; “What challenges?” And I am so glad you asked! Here are just a few from the last four years:
- Pastor Jay Simmons leads South City Church into a posture of humility on race issues
- New Co-Lead Pastor who is African American
- New (But Old) Building
- New Assistant Pastor who is a Genius
- Youth Director now transitioning to Women’s Director for First Light
- Fully embracing new ministries like Orphan Care and Adoptive Family Support, actively encouraging participation in standing ministries like Children’s Worship and Reading Club.
- The Ferguson Uprising of August to December 2014, and reverberating still.
- Vonderrit Myers, Jr. was killed four blocks from our church, October 8th 2014
- Pastor Jay and Sister Jen Simmons have been sent to help Build the Kingdom of God in Austin, Texas
- The Non-Indictment of Officer Wilson in November 2014, resulting in The South Grand Incident (actually The South Grand Explosion) which led to an encounter between police and civilians that was ruled unconstitutional.
- Dissolution of Engage Saint Louis, with absorption of Refugio, The Reading Club, and Youth Group under South City Church’s care.
- Congolese Ministry impacting large numbers of immigrants and refugees from more African countries than just the Congo
- Every day church family life! Welcoming babies, suffering heartbreak, jobs lost, jobs found, prayer needs shared, friends relocating, sweet potato pies delivered.
- The need for shared leadership in our family. Our church officers and staff are called to direct us in – and bear responsibility for – our ministries, they are not to complete every mission and ministry pursuit on their own.
I will stop here because I know the issues can seem overwhelming. But the Lord is active among us, and he has prepared mighty works for us to do through faith in him. So it might be time for us to humbly confess that we are overwhelmed more so by our own need to change.
Again, this is why we pray. My dear Family, as your Lead Pastor I need your prayers for wisdom, stamina, humility and courage. Pray the same for Pastor Sam as well. Pray as we attempt to help our interns understand ministry in context during the short time they are in our program. Pray for our staff; Jared (Refugio), Becky (Church Life, Women), Michelle (Worship, Outreach), Erin (Children), and Brooks (Youth), —some of the most passionate people I have ever worked with. Pray for your Deacons as they are striving to answer the Lord’s call in so many situations. Pray for your Elders as they attempt to provide righteous shepherding and governance to our flock as we move forward in building our small piece of the Kingdom of Jesus. We are participants in the work of Jesus, by The Holy Spirit. We are not adding anything new to his plan. He is working – even now – and we need to seek him to discover how we might actively submit to the call to join him.
Here are important items that need your immediate prayers (not in order of precedence):
- Direction from the Spirit of Jesus to our Congregation and Leadership—what does Jesus want South City Church to do?
- The Preaching of the Gospel—that we will never slide into bad doctrine, no matter what the culture does or says. The Gospel as taught to us by the Holy Spirit is our guide and our testimony. Pray that we will continue to hold it up as our banner, and cling to it as our daily bread.\A Heart for the Gospel—that we never be satisfied with just preaching the Gospel, but living out the Gospel in our every day life, among friends as well as strangers.
- Humility—South City Church doesn’t have all the answers, we have a lot to learn from other Christians, and yes, even non-Christian agencies. 2109 S. Spring Ave. is not the single location where people will find God’s truth.
- Racial Injustice —the Gospel is good news about God’s reconciliation to sinners through Jesus’ work on the Cross, but it is also about reconciliation between those who hate each other and need to be brought together in one Uncommon Family. Racism has made a mess of the United States since its founding. Only the Gospel of Jesus can fix it. This is a tough issue for many of you, and it could drive you out of any church, especially a PCA church. But I would challenge all of us to trust Jesus and hold on. The Holy Spirit has called us to move toward each other, to hunger for humility and listening in love.
- Mercy—how are we reflecting the love of Jesus to our South City Community? Do we really care about the orphaned, the widowed, the poor and the underprivileged? Do we? Really?
- Children and Youth—are we really ALL committed to loving and discipling children and youth at every level? All of us? Really?
- Community Groups—I confess that I am not in one, so even I need to change my behavior. My house is the church’s off campus site where people meet to talk over different issues. We all need to practice communing together in our homes.
- Justice—how does the church confront systems that victimize and oppress the marginalized in our community. We must understand how and why we must speak truth to those in government and law enforcement.
- Honoring Fellow Image Bearers —how do we address the sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb?
- “The Foreigner”— Are we honoring God’s call to embrace the immigrant and the refugee?
- Discipleship and Mobilizing — are we committed to teaching and learning from each other? How can we make more time for training and fellowship? Are we practicing grace and truth and humility
- Honoring Single People —the church must speak into how Singles are cared for without making single Christians feel out of place. Are meaningful friendships happening among our single people? Between single people and married people… and families? The Lord has made us a family, are we truly behaving that way?
- Pursuing our neighbors – how are we representing Jesus in the Shaw neighborhood? How are we engaging and inviting our neighbors to consider our church home their home as well? Do our nearby schools, fellow churches, Alderpersons and Council Members know who and where we are?
- Sexuality—what do we do when we don’t know what to do in this area? How are we addressing same sex attractions? Do brothers and sisters who have same sex attractions feel cared for and instructed in a way that honors their humanity and value?
- Volunteers – 15% percent of our church family does 80% of the ministry work. This is not sustainable. We must honor and engage these lay people who lead, support, love on and pray for our church family every day. We must strengthen discipleship and fellowship in order to change.
My beloved congregation, my dear family; I love you.
I thank the Lord every day for all of you,
From Pastor Mike,
Faith for Justice has published a statement on the Pulse Massacre in Orlando that I’ve included below. I signed the statement because, my dear brothers and sisters, I believe we can do better. It’s time for us to be steadfast in prayer as well as action. No one should have to fear for their life because of their orientation.
Dr. William Barber’s recent article is one I recommend to you. In it he says “Many of our slaughtered and maimed brothers and sisters are members of the LGBTQ community. But in a larger sense, we must say from our hearts, they are from our community. They remain members of our human family of love — in death, as they were in life, children of God, and we weep as one family.”
The LGBTQ+ community in the US does not dwell in a separate country. They are our fellow-citizens. When they suffered attack, we all did. As Dr. King said; “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. We need to stop acting like a gay night club and an AME congregation are on opposite ends of our custom-built boundaries of esteem.
I am concerned, as a retired Chaplain Colonel who served in this nation’s military to support the rights of individuals to live in equality and to have protection from violence, that people are being radicalized not only by IS, but by the behaviors and perspectives of the communities around them. What good is a fight for freedom overseas if we live in division and oppress each other in the US?
This is not about “Christians shaming Christians” or shifting sound theology for the sake of being popular. This is about dismantling the presumption that bloodshed is a necessary outcome of disagreement. I am asking that we consider how often and how deeply our own convictions drive a wedge between us and our neighbors. I am asking us to do our part to make sure that disagreement does not lead to despising. This might mean admitting that we do regularly despise people for the way they live.
It is good to grieve this massacre because it should not happen at all, to anyone. And it is necessary to grieve over the causes of any act that clearly targets a particular group of people. I do not want people to be killed, and I certainly do not want people to be killed because they are Black or Latino – or trans or gay. But it has happened, and it is terrible, and we cannot mourn selectively. The massacre at Pulse Orlando happened because the people there identified as LGBTQ+, or associated with them. We cannot eliminate that from our grief.
No one should have to fear for their life because of their orientation. As members of a global body that is daily being martyred for religious beliefs, we have the capacity to relate to being targeted and murdered because someone hates the way we live so much that they would wish us dead.
The Lord is nigh unto the brokenhearted, and rescues those whose spirits have been crushed. Thank God for the Holy Spirit who teaches us to pray; and shapes us to look, live and act more like Jesus.
yours, Mike Higgins
This post is republished with permission
Anyone who claims to be in the light, while hating their brother, is in darkness even now. 1 John 2.9
On the evening of June 12th, thousands of people marched from the heart of the Grove in St. Louis city to the Transgender Memorial Garden to honor the people who were killed in Orlando earlier that day. It was an opportunity to mourn with those who mourn, to show solidarity by our presence, and to express our sympathy by being silent. Not leading – and not wanting to – has always been an opportunity to show up by shutting up. Because we are learning in this movement that silence in the presence of people impacted by vicious violence can be an expression of humility and love.
We are also learning that there is a different type of silence, one that is driven by fear and breeds the violence we condemn.
Did evangelicals hesitate to mourn the loss of life and health when terrorists struck a marathon in Boston? Did we feel the need to offer theological caveats before mourning the victims at an AME church? Then why do we hesitate to acknowledge that the attack at Pulse in Orlando was fueled by bigotry? Why make note of the things we disagree with before we allow ourselves to lament?
Our Queer families see us when we are absent. They hear us when we are silent.
Perhaps we evangelicals are silent – some refusal to acknowledge the whole identities of LGBTQ+ people – because we are bigoted terrorists too.
Our propaganda: circulating a petition to boycott Target. Our victims: image-bearers whose souls conditions are neither revealed to or controlled by us. We live as if faith gives us the right to direct people’s bodies. This is not faith-filled living. It is oppression.
And much like the realization breaking upon us in the current political climate: this is not evangelicalism. At all.
Evangelicals are a diverse group, thankfully some of our circles include the LGBTQ+ family. Many of us are showing up in solidarity with queer communities around the world, grateful for the invitation to grieve together. But many others in our evangelical family walk a dangerous path of passing judgment before showing compassion. If we readily proclaim that LGBTQ+ people are sacred image-bearers, we must also confess and dismantle our participation in the long history of hatred that has them scared. It is easy to express sympathy for our fellow humans. But we are called to a greater task: to confess that the lives of our gay, lesbian, queer, and trans friends are sacred. We must be willing to say that the lives of queer people of color matter to God.
Silence in solidarity comes from a willingness to hear.
But the silence of violence – intentional or not – is based in fear.
The Bible tells us that perfect love drives out fear. Perhaps it is less the responsibility of those at risk to summon up a fearlessness from inside their own fearful hearts, and more the responsibility of Christians, to follow love as it disrupts and reforms us, to drive out the reasons why LGBTQ+ people are justifiably afraid.
Christians and all people of faith need to examine how our theology and beliefs have contributed to the long history of violence against gay people.
Faith for Justice is committed to biblical activism. Sometimes activism means silence, sometimes it means speaking out. Last Sunday night we were there to be silent, to mourn the many whose bodies were wounded and lives were lost. Now we must mourn our own ignorance, our preference to call ourselves allies before we are willing to behave like we are. When people of faith feel ambivalent because victims of massacre were Queer (or perhaps because many were Latino and people of color) then we need to repent, and we need to change. Together with all who are willing, we do so now.
We confess our failure to center the impacted Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities and queer POC.
We confess that the lives of our gay, lesbian, queer, and trans friends are sacred.
We proclaim that the lives of LGBTQ+ people of color matter to God.
We acknowledge and lament our participation in the long history of hatred and Christian privilege.
We commit to disrupt and dismantle Christian privilege and all it’s trappings evident in evangelical lifestyles: systemic hatred; disregard based on race, gender or orientation; bigotry and misogyny.
Faith for Justice organizing team (Michelle Higgins (Director), Craig Scandrett-Leatherman, Amy Pedersen, Alisha Beseth)
Rev. Dr. Mike Higgins, Pastor of South City Church in St. Louis, MO
The names of the victims:
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 yrs old
Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
This week’s prayer is from a series of prose sermons called God’s Trombones, written by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1927. Many of us know James Weldon Johnson as the author of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the renowned Creation poem. He and his brother also wrote and published one of the earliest, most comprehensive collections of African-American Spirituals. The imagery in this prayer is reminiscent of the traditional invocation at Black churches on Sunday mornings in his day.
O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before thy throne of grace.
O Lord — this morning —
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this morning —
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord — open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.
Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners —
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord — ride by this morning —
Mount your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this morning —
And in your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.
And now, O Lord, this man of God,
Who breaks the bread of life this morning —
Shadow him in the hollow of thy hand,
And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take him, Lord — this morning —
Wash him with hyssop inside and out,
Hang him up and drain him dry of sin.
Pin his ear to the wisdom-post,
And make his words sledge hammers of truth —
Beating on the iron heart of sin.
Lord God, this morning —
Put his eye to the telescope of eternity,
And let him look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine his imagination,
Put perpetual motion in his arms,
Fill him full of the dynamite of thy power,
Anoint him all over with the oil of thy salvation,
And set his tongue on fire.
And now, O Lord —
When I’ve done drunk my last cup of sorrow —
When I’ve been called everything but a child of God —
When I’m done travelling up the rough side of the mountain —
O — Mary’s Baby —
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death —
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet —
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin’ up morning — Amen.
If you would like to share a reflection or prayer, email [email protected]
God’s Trombones, Johnson’s collection of sermons is available online here:
We are singing “Jesus, I Come” in worship this Sunday and will be meditating on the Lord’s lament from Matthew 23 and Luke 13
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
For this second week of Lent, our sister Amy Pedersen has shared a prayer on this theme for centering ourselves in a season of sweet surrender in walking the long road to lean on Jesus; The Savior who joins us on the journey to himself.
God of Grace and Truth,
I come, sin-soaked and soul-sick
because You asked me to
because You threw open Your arms and said, “Come!”
So, unwashed and awkward, I come.
I do not know where we are going.
I barely know where I have been.
My feet, callous and crippled by the hardness of the road,
lose their footing.
I slow You down.
But just over the ridge,
just around the bend in the road,
a little too far for my straining eyes,
I hear You whisper, “Come!”
and I come.
Reflection & Prayer during the Season of Lent
Elder Stacey Clear shared this prayer at a worship service during Advent, another season of penitence and preparation. Recently the seasons of Lent and Advent have intersected a great deal in the ways we prepare for worship, and ask the Lord to prepare our hearts to be in awe at his presence and grace.
Wonderful Counselor we are grateful for the opportunity to come before you in prayer – we are suffering the consequences of sin in a fallen world and it just wears us out. We need you Lord. Our faith is like the bruised reed and the smoldering wick. We thank you that you are the God who does not break the bruised reed or put out the smoldering wick. We need you to show us your kingdom and give us words to speak against doubt. Encourage us in the midst of this to see your Kingdom come.
Some of us are distracted and already worn out by all of the activity and demands of the holiday season and have lost our focus on you. Give us joy in worship today, lift up our heads and open our eyes to your kingdom. Remind us of the true Christmas story that the Christ child is Emmanuel, God with us.
Lord there is much evil in the world wanting to destroy us. We are anxious and fearful for our families and ourselves. We are supposed to be joyful, but terrorists and crazy shooters hide among us, we watch our friends suffer from horrible diseases, it seems like every day brings some news of injustice and racial strife.
Lord you are our Mighty God! We praise your mighty power that created all good things, that overcomes the evil one and death, and that raised Jesus from the dead. You are our strong tower, our strength, we trust that you are not the author of evil and that none of this is bigger than you, or outside your plan. We look forward to complete freedom from sin and all of its corruption, the redemption of all things, the end of all pain, sickness, sorrow and death.
Lord we must admit that we bring much suffering on ourselves by trying to live life on our own terms and not trusting you. We admit that much of our weariness is a result of trying to get what we want – instead of always asking and thanking you for what we need.
Everlasting Father – give us thankful hearts, and hearts that want to obey you. Thank you for coming after us when we forget about you and for always giving us good gifts that we do not deserve. Thank you for the church, for this particular uncommon family, for worship, for fellowship, for buildings and boilers. Thank you for giving us the great gift of salvation – remind us of all of this when we’re tearing up the wrapping paper in a few days and dealing with awkward family issues, or worse: loneliness. You have adopted us into your family as sons and daughters – forever.
Lord you are our Prince of Peace. Our Lord who will end violence and strife by making things just and right. Lord reconcile things to yourself, make us right with you so that we can be reconciled with others and direct them to you.
Lord bring justice where racism is tolerated, where immigrants are mistreated, where widows and orphans are not cared for. Humble those who are in power who govern us, so that they will seek wisdom and even follow you. Raise up servants who will govern well and justly. Give us as citizens the wisdom and discernment. Shine a bright light on injustice so that no one can deny that it exists. Give us courage and hope to speak against it, stir us up so that no good is left undone.
We are gathering prayers and reflections from different people in our uncommon family during this season. Please contact [email protected] if you want to share something you’ve written
We celebrate our intercultural reality at South City Church in a number of ways throughout the year, and this month is no different! There are endless opportunities to learn more about the contributions and freedom struggles of Black Americans. Church leadership will be hosting an informal conversation on living as a family, Sunday February 21st after worship.
During our worship time this month, we continue to hear and engage in God’s story through the songs of our people. We will hear music written by brothers and sisters like Liz Vice and Richard Smallwood, and we will hear from unknown composers who did not always write down the music they wrote. These women and men gave us beloved songs long ago that grew into popularity so quickly the authorship is hard to trace. Other tunes were composed in community, with different groups of worshippers developing new styles and alternate lyrics that best fit their context. For instance, us St. Louis folks sing “King Jesus is Listening” differently than our Caribbean church families. One of these “collaborative” gospel tunes is the one to which many black churches set the text “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”. We will end our worship time with that tune each Sunday this month.
Why would a white church sing the doxology of the black church tradition?
We end most worship services with the doxology. In a moment when you’d think “we should all sing one tune, one common lyric” we sometimes sing the white tradition’s doxology and sometimes that of the black tradition. Does that make sense? Yes.
We sing each other’s traditions because we partake in ONE shared tradition. We sing black gospel music for the same reason we sing songs in Spanish. We sing songs in Lingala and Swahili for the same reason we sing songs from Stewart Townend and Sandra McCracken. No one tradition is THE tradition. In Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, we are one! A new family, represented by countless experiences and expressions. This means that seemingly “unlikely allies” in latin and hispanic, asian, native, black and white church traditions now have a spiritual predisposition of delight toward each other, that we now have the honor of seeing each other and enjoying fellowship. Now, when we are tempted to dismiss or despise each other’s traditions, the truth is it’s become more difficult to remain apart. We are drawn to one another because Jesus drew us to himself.
I wish we knew more doxologies! We remember and enjoy multiple tunes, and Christianity boasts multiple expressions. This is not about numbers or representation. This is about longing to be one with all the saints; forming habits of righteous hunger that lead us to praise God more than we praise traditions. It is good for us to know more about the people whose experiences differ from ours. What neglect we suffer from willing ignorance! What disservice we do to our own tastes when we forbid others to speak our hearts in a new tongue.
If I know only one song, I might accidentally convince myself that no one knows it better. Or worse, I might convince someone else that their song has no worth.
Interestingly, a strong resemblance to the tune Duke Street (credited to Englander John Stratton and made famous when it was paired with Isaac Watts’ text “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”) makes the “black doxology” more accessible to white worship traditions than many of us may think. With each line of the text – the same text used in most English speaking traditions, attributed to Thomas Ken in1674 – the tune builds into a jubilant swell. How marvelous, how deeply ironic, that one of the youngest ethnic groups in the world, and certainly the youngest in US history, would develop worship practices that center on adoration, victory and rejoicing.
This despite the fact that Black Americans almost always trace their roots to the eras in which we were oppressed by people whose hymn texts – and often hymn tunes – were identical to our own. Dr. King said “our fates are intertwined”. Oh glory, what a challenging, redeeming word.
Let us wholly embrace this adjoined destiny. Let us rehearse our oneness in and outside of the sanctuary, so that we might testify of the God who reconciles humanity to himself, and to one another. Church families in the US – especially those who share the same language – must learn to honor each other if we are ever to achieve the greater goal of expressing unity with our family across the globe.
To the Congregation of South City Church,
Monday August 10th; I participated in a Saint Louis Clergy civil disobedience that involved a march from Christ Church Cathedral downtown to the Tom Eagleton Federal Building. The purpose of this action was to go forward as a show of unity and solidarity, to pray, sing hymns on the steps of the Federal Building and demand that the United States Attorney for Eastern Missouri move forward on the changes that must be made to ensure that all who are sworn to serve and protect will be better equipped to serve and protect people, not systems.
When the federal marshals and STLPD threatened the peaceful crowd with chemical agents, some of us decided on the spot to be dragged, tazed and/or cuffed as a way of distracting or at least slowing down that type of dispersal tactic, hoping to prevent many (including children) from being harmed.
This action was announced last Friday night at the conclusion of our First Friday Prayer meeting. Obviously, though the possibility of arrest was discussed at the meeting, my arrest could not have been announced. My hope, along with those of everyone who participated, was that we would not be arrested, but engaged. I believe we were heard, in some small way, but I believe we must keep speaking, keep confronting. And I will do it all again if the circumstances are ever the same. I would do it again because I am not just doing this for myself. I was out there for my family, for our family. And I was there for everyone else. I hope that something I do keeps the next generation from being raised to become racists without even knowing it.
Brothers and Sisters, this world is broken. Justice in America – and so many places on earth – is not blind. If she were blind, she would not be blindfolded. She can see very clearly. She can see which ethnic group you belong to, how old or young you are, which side of the tracks you live on.
Justice, without the blindfold, can be manipulated by those who claim to exact it; to make you afraid of black people or Hispanic people, to make you dismiss addicts and ex-cons, to prevent us all from embracing equality or extending grace; to prevent us from affirming that we are all made in God’s image. I think the blindfold was pulled off in this country when, not long ago, white men constructed a phenomenon called Race to make sure that people of color would never be considered equal, based solely on skin tone. Justice needs someone to help her with her blindfold, and we marched this Monday to demand that she retie it.
The Constitution says that US citizens are innocent until proven guilty, but as a black man I am treated as if I am guilty and have to prove my innocence. The Church knows this tension -more than anyone. We are a community of people called to love and trust one another, but we remain suspicious, cynical, and judgmental of people who do not fit into the categories we have deemed proper. Let’s be first to admit this hypocrisy, and turn from it. Let’s run to testify to our communities, and let’s demand that the authorities search themselves for this hypocrisy as well.
Brothers and Sisters, I know that many of you are tired of hearing about Ferguson or surrounding discussions. I get so tired of talking about ethnic division, marching about it, meeting about it, sitting on stages in forums about it, but what else can I do when it seems that so many US citizens don’t know, or often forget the history of this country – how our cities evolved into their present state — how many of them became the “hood.” I grew up in North Saint Louis and I saw how it happened here. In the 60s and 70s a large tract of North Saint Louis (The Ville, Fountain Park and a few other neighborhoods) were racially diverse, with a large percentage of middle class households. Then, the white folks left the City. Many white churches left, especially white Evangelical churches. It was a westward expansion to Saint Louis County. As a result, we are a hyper segregated city in a country that seems to be happy with “separate and unequal” standards of social justice for the black and brown underclass. No wonder my actions seem like foolishness to so many, it would seem like foolishness to me too if I didn’t know what I know about racism – or if I didn’t believe my foolish acts would help change things in this country.
Many of you see me as your pastor and it is an honor for me to serve you and the Lord in this capacity. However, I would ask you to see me as your friend. As we sit together on Sunday mornings, we are tearing down the historical segregation of the American church, and working towards true unity. But we cannot stop there. We must pursue “the elimination of racism in all its forms” as our elders stated in June. So, let’s attack division in all it’s forms, together. Let’s sit together in each other’s homes. Sit with me during a traffic stop, sit with me at the Rib Shack in north city, sit with me when people think it’s weird that you have a black pastor, sit with me when people think it’s weird that so many of the people I serve are white.
I love our country and I know we can do better – God help the USA. But I love you more than any duty assignment I’ve been given, and I know that we will do better, because the Spirit has shown us the end of our story. That’s how I know that we cannot give up, no matter how tired or uncomfortable it gets. We march on, pray on, sing on – because we know The God of righteousness and justice; true justice.
This Justice is neither blind nor blindfolded, it need not be. While justice in America is blindfolded to ensure some artificial security from bias, true Justice sees all our differences, discerns all distinctions, and judges fairly still. This is our future: we will all see, and finally see rightly.
A letter from Pastor Mike
What does it mean to be an Evangelical?
According to The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the distinctives of evangelicalism are defined like so:
Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts.
Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.
Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.
Basically, we believe in Conversion, Action, The Word, and The Cross. But wait, I thought you had to vote a certain way and live a predominantly euro-centric lifestyle? So what does an Evangelical look like? It’s a lot more ordinary, and a lot more radical, than we might think.
Here is my charge to the uncommon family of South City Church
As your pastor, I ask that you not only consider how to be a member of an “Uncommon Family” but consider also how you can show yourself to be an “Uncommon Evangelical” to your community. South City Church is an evangelical church, but sometimes becoming a member of an evangelical church is taken to mean “we have finally found a place to hide from weak theology and all the evils that it creates and supports.” Correction, brothers and sisters, we ain’t hidin’ from nobody. It’s time to take The Word to the streets.
This weekend our church, local community and city will remember the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, August 9th 2014. Our church is playing a role in this weekend’s actions to remember that tragic day with peaceful activities. This honors the wishes of the Brown family, and those of local organizers, that there be no violence in the name of Michael Brown – now or ever. This is the right way to protest: standing with people from all backgrounds and declaring that we seek restoration of broken relationships, and a righting of wrongs that will bring hope and thriving to everyone in our communities.
Let’s be uncommon evangelicals
Let’s be about conversionism: Be present in the community year round, not just when the press might to be in area. True evangelicalism is a calling for our church to have a ministry of our presence in the community after we as a church witness the ministry of His presence in the sanctuary. To fully devote ourselves to following the example of Jesus, we gather in our church home for fellowship with each other, and we open our home to fellowship with the people around us.
Let’s be about activism: Let’s educate ourselves about social issues like same-sex marriage and what it means to be fully pro-life, not just anti-abortion. Let’s be quick to listen, slow to judge. Engage in conversations surrounding ethnic division, gender and generational bias and power dissonance. And then commit to action. Even though it means discomfort, and though it may mean we are poor or unpopular, we have to do what is right. Let’s commit to a gospel-shaped activism that checks attitude at the door, and re-evaluates motives when we are more concerned with A+ preaching and less concerned with D- daily life.
Let’s be about biblicalism: Devote yourself to God’s word. There is no substitute, supplemental resource for answering life’s profound questions. Part of evangelicalism is meditating on God’s word for our own health and that of others. Every time social issues overtake and divide the people of God in scripture, the central failure of the people is that they have not heeded the Word or taught it to their children, because they have forgotten its importance. That made it impossible for them to preach the Word, let alone be directed by it.
Let’s be about crucicentrism: We must keep preaching Jesus, and Uncommon Savior,” an “Uncommon King” who touched the leper, preached to the troubled Pharisee about being born again, talked to the adulterous woman, who was descended from Moabites and Jews, who called himself the Son of Man, who understood being called names, who spoke so much truth to the authorities it cost him His life, who would agree that Black Lives Matter, who is the only one who can “Let Justice Roll Down”.
This is what we long to be; a family united by the gospel; a family filled with the Spirit who leads us to proclaim the gospel in every place, in every way.
What does an “Uncommon Evangelical” look like? My Answer: You.
Love, Mike Higgins
The Elders of South City Church adopted this statement Monday June 1st, 2015
South City Church (SCC) is an uncommon family, in the city, united by the Gospel. In light of the recent tension and strife in our city related to race, the leadership of SCC desires to encourage its members and to be a faithful public witness in this arena. Consequently, the Elders of South City Church hereby adopt the following Statement on Racism:
- God created us ALL in his image (Genesis 1:27). Despite this, some hold that people of one color or another are somehow not full image bearers. We reject such thoughts and associated behaviors.
- God does not show partiality (Romans 2:11). Despite this, some hold that one color can be superior and another inferior. We reject such thoughts and associated behaviors.
- Racism is sin (James 2:9). We acknowledge that there has historically been and continues to be racism in our city. Sometimes it has been easily recognized, such as slavery; and sometimes it is more discreet, such as by customs, laws, and systems that are not fair to all. We should be active in our community for the peaceful elimination of racism in all its forms.
- We ALL sin and need the Gospel (Romans 3:23). This is true for police, protestors, criminals, politicians, and judges… all community members are called to repentance and forgiveness (Matthew 6:12)
- All Christians are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). This unity does not mean uniformity; we have cultural differences that are best celebrated, not despised.
- There is hope. There will be a day when racism ends and every tribe stands before the throne united in worship of the risen Christ (Rev 7:9). Until then, God commands us to love one another (John 13:34). We should do so. Love will conquer hate (Proverbs 10:12).
For more information, email [email protected]
Here is a scan of the dated statement with signatures.
“When the day of Pentecost
arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.”– Acts 2:1-4
What do you think of when you imagine the presence of God? Peace? Calm? Serenity?
Throughout the Old Testament, God’s presence is almost always accompanied with fire. Think about it. The Lord appeared to Moses in a burning bush. He led his people through the wilderness by a pillar of fire. Sinai was covered in flames at the giving of the law. Isaiah’s vision of the heavenly temple was filled with smoke and fire as he looked upon God’s glory. To be sure, God promises “fullness of joy” in his presence (Psalm 16:11), but we can’t forget that we worship a God who identifies himself as “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29).
In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit rushes into the room like a mighty wind—not a gentle breeze—and visibly rests upon the disciples in the form of fire. The implication is clear: at Pentecost, J.D. Greear observes, “the fire of God has come to sit atop the head of every believer. Every believer has become a burning bush.” Pentecost is not so much about the coming of the Holy Spirit (he’s been around since before Genesis 1!). It’s the story of God making his presence known to, in, and through his people by the gift of the Holy Spirit.
A lot of people focus on the “speaking in other tongues” part of Pentecost.
Yet this goes hand in hand with what we’ve just seen. The Spirit descends in the form of fire and causes the disciples to speak in other languages to show that God has empowered his church for a mission. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to display God’s presence and proclaim Christ’s goodness to every nation on earth.
At South City Church, we talk a lot about being an “Uncommon Family.” And one of the things that makes us uncommon is the fact that this ragtag bunch of sinner/saints gathers every week in St. Louis, MO to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of Peter, Paul, and the rest of the disciples. The promise of Pentecost has come true! And this same Spirit now enables us for the crucial task of displaying God’s presence and proclaiming the astonishingly good news of Jesus in our city and our neighborhoods. Without him, we’re hopeless. But with him, we have the empowering presence of God.
“In Acts 2 the fire of God has come to sit atop the head of every believer. Every believer has become a burning bush.”– J.D. Greear
Sam Haist is our Assistant Pastor, Men’s Ministry & Discipleship director.
Brothers and Sisters of South City Church, I wish this was a letter celebrating the beginning of the end of racial tension in our country.
Or at least, I wish this letter was about enjoying baseball. I love baseball, I bleed Cardinal red, I wear Cardinals gear. I wish we could live in Busch Stadium. Then we’d need only to go home to be entertained, cheer the Cards, or jeer the Cubs, and eat expensive snack foods. But we don’t live in an entertainment center. We live in Saint Louis. We live in Ferguson. We live in Baltimore and Nepal, in Chibok and Garissa.
I expected Baltimore to explode a long time ago. This is the city where NBC filmed “Homicide: Life on the Street” and where HBO filmed “The Corner,” and “The Wire.” These gritty crime shows depicted a city where joblessness, neighborhoods in transition, drugs, crime and questionable police actions were a formula for great entertainment. But while the rest of the United States was being entertained by NBC and HBO, there were people in places like Baltimore’s Sandtown area that were dealing with these realities every day. While there are some differences between Ferguson and Baltimore, especially when it comes to the larger area that Baltimore authorities have to cover, there is one basic sameness; Blacks in Ferguson, like blacks in Baltimore, like blacks in most US cities, do not trust the police. They know that not every police officer is racist or even close. This mistrust and resentment is not so much towards the individual cop as it is the systemic racist force that police departments sometimes reflect.
We’ve all heard about or witnessed the aptly labeled atmosphere of “negative trust” in our communities. Not only do many non-white civilians find it difficult to trust police, police often find it difficult to believe civilians who say “we are pro-accountability, not anti-police.” We must acknowledge this lack of trust, and the history that led to it, in order to live in a way that builds trust and affirms good communication. This means saying the hard things that help us to learn from our past. This means condemning injustice, death and division even when speaking up is difficult or unpopular. I must condemn the actions of the men and women who vandalize their neighborhoods and taunt law enforcement. It pains me that people label all of them as thugs or reduce them to the media portrayal of their actions. But sin is sin. And we must condemn the damage and division taking place around the country.
We must also condemn the division caused – and the damage done – by the vague communication, race or class driven bias, and dehumanizing actions of authorities. When members of our community suffer at the hands of people in power, we all suffer. When those who seek answers are treated as if they will never be heard, we have all been ignored. This too is sin because dishonesty is destructive. As one group controls access to information that would serve to shed light on a suspicious death, those left without answers live in a debilitating culture of deceit in which attempts to control are prioritized over invitations to converse. It is painful when some people have authorities labeled as totally corrupt and it is frustrating for me to hear comments about dismantling police once and for all rather than advocating for better training, healthy rapport, and support for good officers. But these difficulties do not impact the value of – and desperate need for – clear communication. We must demand answers in spite of these difficulties – in all respect and humility – because only right relationships will bring justice, which is critical to a governance of peace.
The Baltimore Orioles’ Chief Operating Officer, John Angelos, took a risk and spoke some difficult truths quite publicly. He surprised many on 22 April when he voiced his concerns over Twitter. Here is a portion of his statement:
“That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage, and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle-class and working-class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to third-world dictatorships, like China and others; plunged tens of millions of good, hardworking Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil-rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of ab ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state. The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government, pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importances of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards.”
The postponement of the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards makes us ask: Why do protestors – and sometimes rioters – try to shut down or disrupt major sporting events? I would suggest some reasons: they know wherever large groups of people gather, there will be a lot of press coverage and police protection and therefore an opportunity for the whole world to see and hear them. There is also the message that “we are tired of games.” Therefore, Camden Yards is a prime platform to project the message that “we want answers and justice.” I believe black folks are tired of cities paying more attention to their sports teams than they do to joblessness, bad housing policies, racial profiling, abusive policing, increasing incarceration rates amongst blacks, and a justice system that tends to favor whites. These expressions of frustration are never intended to affirm the destructive opportunists who seek to do harm rather than plead a righteous case, and we must keep this in mind when we hear reports of dangerous distractions. The message is clear still: people of color have long been deemed unworthy of equal treatment, and there is no tactic, no plan or scheme that can be crafted to hide this fact.
Last night the Orioles did not play for public safety reasons. But John Angelos’ statement brings a different reason to light: the Orioles, and the city of Baltimore, actually have no time to play games. The Church has no time to play games when it comes to representing Jesus. This is real life for the Church and we must have an answer and be involved in our cities without avoiding hard conversations. It feels easier and more comfortable to focus on things that entertain us, but this will only bring more pain. If we live to play games, we will kill our communities. Ferguson is now not just a suburb of Saint Louis, it is a term of comparison that refers to any metropolitan area soaked with the kerosene of racial tension, hate and mistrust that explodes, often because a police action has struck a rock with a flint, and the city explodes.
Sisters and brothers, there are going to be explosions. Though Jesus is bigger than even the most devastating explosion, there will be explosions. We at South City Church must remember that while we are called to enjoy our lives and celebrate the grace of the Gospel, this calling is not a game. The celebration of God’s grace is a lifesaving lifestyle. It is a sustainable witness that both demands and inspires transformation in our community. When we are faced with an explosion, we can testify of the God who humbled himself and entered into the chaos, and we can follow his example. When we learn to stop playing games, we might learn to truly delight in each other, which brings a deeper joy than any pastime – and will serve to enrich the enjoyment of the pastimes we already love.
Pray for clergy and congregations to respond in faith and courage—to get on their knees and then get into the streets and engage people. Pray for me and the leadership of our church that we will be patient, prayerful, and righteously proactive. Nobody loves baseball more than I do, but sometimes it is appropriate to postpone the game.
“Perhaps adult learning is always dangerous.”
As I was preparing for our small group leader training a few weeks back, I retuned to this quote from Dr. Jane Vella.* It is a statement that I have wrestled with on and off for a little over 5 years. What is it about being an adult that makes us feel we can stop learning? What is it that makes learning so dangerous? Why do we have the assumption that at a certain age curiosity, growth, learning should end?
A few years back I decided to take a leap and begin taking piano lessons. As a kid I learned enough to know that there is a “middle C” and over the years Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder have helped me remember that there are ebony and ivory keys! I have always loved the beauty of music that comes from a piano, so I decided to try again. Over the years my piano teacher has told me numerous times that people are always surprised to find out that she has adults students. She frequently has people come up to her and say that they have always wanted to learn, but… whatever the reason we as adults often fear something about learning.
Is adult learning always dangerous? I don’t think so. I believe that some learning may expose us to harm, but much more often learning exposes us to the unknown. And here is where I depart from Vella; I don’t think that adult learning is always dangerous, but I think that perhaps adult learning is always costly. As we learn we are exposed to the fact that we don’t know and ignorance seemingly costs us something.
As I look through the life and ministry of Jesus I see him calling his believers to change, to grow in sanctification (aka becoming more like Jesus). Learning from Jesus’ teaching cost all of those around him. For some it cost them their status, following Jesus meant making life changes (Luke 19:1-10, Phil 1:12-13). Some had to risk setting aside their entitlement or self-righteousness and that risk was too much (Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:9-14). But for many, learning and growing required courage to risk trusting in Jesus as their status, righteousness, healing, identity, and hope (Luke 7:1-11, John 4:1-29, Matt 26:6-13).
Since August 9th 2014, it seems as if there has been a giant spot light into the hearts and minds of the church in St. Louis. Not just South City Church, but the larger fellowship of Christ’s body of believers. The events that have occurred since that day have given us a lot of opportunity to learn with and from each other. We have all been given the opportunity to risk together. But even before this past summer we all have been given a choice. Let’s name that this is hard! Learning as an adult makes us feel vulnerable, angry and/or naive. We have all been exposed to harm of some sort in the past that makes us fear the present. We have been made to feel unheard, stupid, unseen, or ill-equipped. If we let them our past experiences can shape our humility before God and man. If we let them our past experiences can shape our willingness to learn.
Brothers and Sisters I urge you to refuse to live lives of complacency! I urge you because the Gospel frees us (and calls us) to learn from each other. It gives us the freedom to laugh with each other and delight in each other amidst our differences (1 Cor 12:12-26, Eph 4:4-6, Gal 5:11-14). The Gospel gives us the freedom of humility, the freedom to learn.
Perhaps adult learning is always costly. What is it costing you?
Becky Kiern is Director of Community Life at South City Church
We thought about naming this entry “HOPE vs. H&#!”
Because hoping is really hard. Personally, I think it’s a dirty word. It masks itself as a lovely decoration, but it demands we engage, fight, stand firm, sacrifice, risk, and be willing to die. It’s being willing to be in the tension of a broken world, full of sin and disappointment, while we wait for glory. We believe it’s coming, but often our faith is not the balm we so desperately want it to be. We seek a balm elsewhere, just to get relief. I tend to turn to endless episodes of anything on Netflix, until I feel numb and disconnected from myself, God, and everyone else. This is followed by greater disappointment, because I long for connection, and I’ve made it harder by my own choices.
That’s how addiction works: we feel the unbearable tension of current reality and what we long for, and we do whatever it takes for us to break the tension (tv, facebook, Candy Crush, video games, drinking, porn, eating, not-eating, over-exercising, cleaning, shopping, etc.). We’re pretty much always successful, so we’re likely to do it over and over again. And, we end up sitting in the same tension–we can’t kill the tension.
Let me offer a far grittier and harder solution. Let’s sit in the tension together, and give it a voice. Let’s cry out to the Lord together, begging him to act. Let’s not try to work out our faith alone. Let me offer you my faith in the One who is Faithful, because I can have great faith on your behalf. But, honestly, I need your faith for me. As a result of the fall, of sin, we have come to believe that we can gut it out alone, and that trusting is foolishness. We know that’s not true, so we must push back against the darkness for ourselves, and for one another. I don’t know if we will feel better, but we will be acting in integrity, with honesty, and in hope.
It’s Advent Season, and our city is crying out for peace, reconciliation, and redemption. We are smack dab in the middle of that tension. Let’s not try to escape it. Let’s admit we are helpless. We need one another. Even more, we need Jesus. We need him to act, to comfort, to lead, to refocus us. We need him to hear us. We need to pray together–we need to hope together.
Advent is all about waiting for the promised Savior to come and intervene, and ultimately break the tension forever. The book of Habakkuk is also about waiting and longing for the coming Savior. Please join me on Sunday mornings through Advent from 9:15 – 10:00 for prayer through the book of Habakkuk. It will mean taking a step of faith to come. Showing up will be pushing back against the darkness. It will mean the sacrifice of sleep and warm beds, perhaps leisurely breakfasts.
Your tendency on Sunday morning will be to not come. I have that tendency every Sunday. Choose now to join us (Please hear this as an invitation, which means you can choose to turn it down without me thinking less of you). I’ll make coffee.
Sundays of Advent 2014 are 30 November, and 7, 14, 21 December
The Father’s love does not force itself on the beloved. Although he wants to heal us of all our inner darkness, we are still free to make our own choice to stay in the darkness or step into the light of God’s love. God is there. God’s light is there. God’s forgiveness is there. God’s boundless love is there. What is so clear is that God is always there, always ready to give and forgive, absolutely independent of our response. God’s love does not depend on our repentance or our inner or outer changes. Whether I am the younger son or the older son, God’s only desire is to bring me home.
Henri J.M. Nouwen
The Lord’s steadfast love endures forever. Throughout Scripture this is the point that is driven home time and time again. Even in the times when we don’t understand how it looks, the Lord’s love for his people is unchanging. When we wander through life’s deserts, choosing to stay in our isolation, the steadfast love of the Lord is unchanging. When we choose to dwell in the darkness of life, allowing grief, depression and anxiety to be the Rulers of our lives, still the steadfast love of the Lord is unchanging. When we are rebellious, when we choose our own self fulfillment over the goodness of the Lord, still the steadfast love of the Lord is unchanging.
So as we celebrate Thanksgiving, as we prepare for Advent, as we deal daily with the turbulence of the brokenness that is so evident all around us, let us see and remember that the steadfast love of the Lord is unchanging. He sees our fear, He sees how we have been marginalized, how we feel alone, unheard, unseen. He sees all of these because he sees each one of His children. While the world around us is constantly changing, His character is not.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from north and from the south. Psalm 107
Becky Kiern is Director of Community Life and Women’s Ministry
To the Family of South City Church
Sisters and Brothers, we all know that a decision on the possible indictment in the Michael Brown Case is due to be released very soon. I know that there is a growing sense of concern for what could happen in the Ferguson community and our own Shaw Neighborhood, whether or not there is an indictment. I am praying early and daily for peace and calm. I expect that a lack of indictment will bring more protests. But I ask the Lord every day to sovereignly govern ALL THINGS by His mighty power. I pray for our church family, for our neighborhood and for our sister churches and friends. I pray for those who protest as well as for those who do not. I pray for Officer Darren Wilson and his family, for St. Louis city and county PD and for their families. I pray for Michael Brown’s family and the families of all who mourn loved ones lost. If people feel they must protest, I pray that they will be seen and heard; I also pray that they will have leaders in the group who refuse to allow peaceful protests to be marred by unnecessary criminal actions.
I pray that people will show love for each other, even people that oppose each other. I pray that people will keep watch over their comments, and their Facebook posts.
In times like this, I pull out my theme scripture from Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Here is my conduct lately:
~ Rising up early to pray and read scriptures like Psalm 91. Soldiers love to read about God’s protection during times of concern, fear, and high anxiety…such as the city’s racial tension and our church heading towards a transition.
~ Meditating on the fact that I am not Jesus, but simply called by Him to love my neighbor; even when my neighbor may be hurt and angry about injustice, real or perceived.
~ Sitting still; just to see if I can do it. No phone, no email, no text. Not easy, but I am learning to not be afraid of “dead space” for sake of practicing complete dependance on God.
~ Repenting of my own fear and anger.
~ Listening (really listening, with love) to those who don’t agree with me, or those who openly oppose me—they are still my neighbor.
~ Re-visiting the fact that I am loved by Jesus, even when I blow it.
~ Wanting God’s truth to speak louder than my opinion; so I subject my opinion to his truth.
~ Remembering that I don’t have the right to presume that I’m right about everything.
South City Church, please know this; Whatever happens, Jesus happens more.
By Brook Talsma,
I sat towards the back near the exit for over a month, knowing I could escape unnoticed, not having to talk to anyone if my relational anxiety in making small talk with strangers was too high, though it was difficult to escape Miss Vivian most Sundays. I longed to be entrapped in a conversation with anyone who took interest, almost as much as I longed for the comfort and solitary of my car on the drive home from church. After only three Sundays, I knew South City was where I wanted to make my church home, but the hard work of making it feel like home was daunting.
I did my best to get involved, not waiting for others to make the first move, even though I really wanted them to do so. I began playing bass when needed, went on the women’s retreat weekend, though at the time I didn’t want anything to do with women’s retreats (If you’re a woman, you should go this year, by the way. They’re really wonderful). I attended new members class and a few Sunday School classes. I began teaching the 3-5 year olds on a monthly rotation during worship. Eventually, I joined a Community Group, which lead to some closer friendships. All-in-all, I felt like I had my foot in the door. It wasn’t quite satisfactory.
It wasn’t until we began having work days nearly every Saturday, upon buying our current building, that I felt I belonged. It wasn’t until I began serving the body at South City, making the sacrifice of my time and offering my unique gifts and talents that I felt like I’d finally arrived at home. The byproduct of my service was joy. It was surprising, and I wanted more. I found other ways to serve within how the Lord has made me, and the result was even more joy.
We are a body of many parts, and I had been withholding my part. Let’s call it a finger. The finger on its own didn’t offer much, but when used with the rest of the body, it became part of a hand, which was attached to a wrist, which was part of an arm, of a shoulder, of a torso, of a body. By attaching itself to the body, the finger gained a significance that made it exponentially more useful and a part of something bigger than itself. I think that’s one reason serving brings joy.
Serving brings us into relationship and asks us to look beyond ourselves, and hopefully to the greater purpose of furthering God’s kingdom. A self-centered focus tends to bring only loneliness.
South City has many obvious places that need the different parts of the body to serve. There’s an upcoming ministry fair that will highlight most of these. But, I will invite you to look beyond the obvious as well. Recently, I acquired a coffee grinder for the church, because I love great coffee. But more so, I love making great coffee to share with others. My love of coffee is a part of me that I get to share with others. It doesn’t feel like work, because it’s a one of my passions. What is it about which you are passionate? How can that be translated into serving the Body of Christ at South City? Will you let your passion be turned into service resulting in joy?
Need help figuring it out? Grab me and let’s have some coffee and talk about it.
Brook is a Deacon and the representative for the Building Committee
She serves in Hospitality, Children’s Worship, and the Music Team
Listen and Speak: Special Event, Tuesday August 26th
Citywide Forum with sister churches from the Missouri Presbytery and the Pastoral Fellowship of St. Louis. New friends from Union Theological Seminary, Plant Midwest, and Sojourners joined us from around the country, for this gathering meant to spur discussion across races, theological viewpoints and multiple denominations.
Special Guests at this event:
Pastor William Barber of NAACP Moral Monday Movement in North Carolina; Lisa Sharon Harper, Senior Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners in Washington, DC; Pastor Michael McBride, National Director of Lifelines to Healing.
Please join us for the next forum: Tuesday, September 16th
5:30pm in the sanctuary at South City Church
We Must Speak Up: A Letter to Church Leaders
This performance prose by Mazaré Rogers is a challenge to Christian clergy who have not addressed cultural issues which have serious impact on the church. But as many of these issues are viewed as culturally or politically controversial, they remain virtually untouched in sermons and planning for ministry development.
– Mazaré is an M.Div candidate at Covenant Theological Seminary. She attends New City Fellowship in University City
– Sean Loftin, the videographer, attends South City Church
– Peace Tabernacle, the video locale, is part of our Pastoral Fellowship
Part 2 in our series on white privilege and white guilt, for people of all races. In the previous article, Pastor Jay Simmons challenged us last week to engage one another graciously. Here, Amy Pedersen gives a clear definition of privilege and offers practical steps for starting a conversation with friends. The most important pieces of this preparation? Confession, confidence, and patience.
You care about racial justice in our city. You want to fight racism. But some of your friends couldn’t care less. They don’t want to talk about Ferguson, they don’t want to talk about systemic injustice, and your white friends certainly don’t want to talk about white privilege. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” they say, “I’m not privileged. I worked hard to get where I’m at. I’m not a racist.”
These people aren’t evil or hateful, they simply don’t understand and don’t know why they should care. Their attitude represents both a failure of education and of imagination. First, education. Some have simply have never heard these concepts and are struggling to unlearn lessons they have been taught all their lives. These are painful lessons and you must have patience with your brothers and sisters, listening to their struggles with grace and sympathy.
We inherited our divisions, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do the hard and thankless work of walking away from them.
Privilege is often invisible because it is the absence of something—the absence of fear or harassment or exclusion. Some white people respond viscerally the first time they hear the term “white privilege” because it feels like judgment, like you are saying they are personally an entitled or hateful person simply because of their race. Sometimes it is best to start by using words like, “unfair, unasked-for advantages.”
These advantages don’t mean that white people don’t have to work for what they have, they simply start the race 50-meters ahead and with fewer hurdles in their lane. We all started this story in mid-sentence. We inherited our divisions, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do the hard and thankless work of walking away from them.
Many people don’t feel like they have privilege because they grew up poor or excluded in some other way. Their gender or disability or economic level has made their life more difficult. A person who brings up their own disadvantages is actually in an ideal place to understand white privilege. They have experienced the other side of privilege first-hand. They can understand what exclusion feels like. Race isn’t the only kind of power that has been misused in our society. All power that is put in human hands is twisted to our own sinful ends.
Having some disadvantages doesn’t mean you don’t have other, undeserved advantages or vice versa.
Many people need to have many, many painful and frustrating conversations. They need to work through these concepts over a period of days, weeks, or months. Give them time and grace, while encouraging them to keep talking. Remember that there was a time when you didn’t understand and try to be patient and kind.
No matter how many facts are exchanged, these arguments usually aren’t about logic at their core. Instead of falling into pointless arguments over details, try to look for the feelings that underlie the arguments and engage with those emotional reactions.
Defensiveness or anger may be a visceral reaction to a person’s own sense of fairness: they don’t want to believe that they live in a society that is steeped in injustice. Apathy may be a way of avoiding deeply painful topics: they don’t want to believe that they have power that has been used wrongly in our society.
Christians are the family of God. We are called to love our neighbor and to confront sin in our culture and in our own hearts with the same grace that God has shown to us. Educating ourselves on these issues, refusing to look away from our brothers’ and sisters’ suffering, is one of the ways we can love our neighbor.
It will be a long and difficult road, but we are called to keep walking it.
photograph courtesy of Neil E. Das.
The first in a series of articles on the difference between white privilege and white guilt. Pastor Jay Simmons sets the stage for an ongoing discussion.
As the media lights begin to turn their focus off of Ferguson, MO, we St. Louisans are left with deep questions about how to not only make sense out of what happened in the tragic death of Michael Brown but also how to pick up the pieces and move forward – hopefully – with some real racial healing. We have seen a great desire by the vast majority of our citizens for that kind of healing, but how do we begin? What stands in our way? What has historically kept us and continues to keep us racially divided? As a white urban pastor in this city for the last decade I have learned a lot. But if there’s anything I’ve learned the most is that I still have so much more to learn! So what I offer here is just a very small piece of the puzzle that I hope will be of some benefit to the journey ahead together.
This Tuesday night, August 26, the church I planted and co-lead pastor – South City Church – held a forum with some of the finest cross cultural faith leaders of the day. It was an amazing night where many voices of struggle and pain, hope and grace were heard and many very good and honest questions were fielded by the panel of my co-lead pastor Rev. Mike Higgins, Rev. Thurman Williams of Grace and Peace Fellowship, Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, Mike McBride from PICO and Michelle Higgins, the Director of Worship and Outreach. They did an amazing job of helping all of us see the complexity of the problem but also the abundance of resources we have as a Gospel community to bring healing. There was one question – the first question actually – that I wanted to bring a little more perspective to.
The question was something like: “How can I help my white friends and family who seem uncomfortable talking about white privilege see that it is real and needs to be addressed?” The answers from the panel as well as a few other white community leaders in the audience rightfully focused on the need to show the reality of white privilege in our world and gave examples from their own personal experiences of that reality. I was grateful for their answers and felt a deep need to go further for the sake of opening up a huge issue that I believe has been a large stumbling block for white people when it comes to addressing racism.
Human beings are by nature defensive creatures. Heck, I have a hard time admitting to my wife that I wasn’t listening to her very well when rightfully accused of that infraction! Sometimes when we talk about white privilege the same defensive mechanisms can go up amongst white people. While it may not in any way be intended, to say someone has white privilege can feel like being called a racist. And therefore, our defenses go up thus inhibiting us from engaging the topic in any healthy or constructive manner.
There is no doubt there are many white people who are blind to the racial problem in our country and are frustrated with African American who keep bringing it up. For them, there does need to be a holy reckoning with the fact that white people have sinned and continue to sin deeply against our African American brothers and sisters. They need to reckon with the fact that white people are guilty. But there are many other white people who clearly see, admit and repent of this truth but who continue to struggle with white guilt. For them, they respond to the perceived accusation of white privilege in one of two very negative ways: 1. They crawl into their safe, white hole and refuse to speak into the situation out of fear of appearing racist, or 2. They go to work out of that guilt to make amends to black folks for the generations of atrocities our white culture has committed by doing works of mercy and justice and love. Good works, mind you, but badly motivated by guilt. Those kind of works amount to penance and are antithetical to the Gospel of grace and therefore provide no lasting benefit. In fact, they may serve to push the races further apart.
My exhortation to white people stuck in white guilt is this: White privilege doesn’t mean you are racist. It is just a reality of the broken, unjust culture we live in. It is a bad reality. But it’s not your personal fault for it. If you want to really be a part of the Gospel solution to the issues of race in our day and our city, start by recognizing the reality of the problem, grieve it as “not the way it’s supposed to be”. Recognize that it IS a result of white atrocities committed – even if they aren’t personally yours. Repent for any personal sin you DO have that has contributed to the problem. And then, receive the grace of God for you – the grace Christ has won for us: “ For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility  by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,  and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16 ESV) Only then – in forgiveness – can you move out redemptively reconciled to your African American brothers and sisters and be part of the Gospel healing of the community.
And my humble suggestion my black brothers and sisters: I completely understand and affirm the passion you have for talking about white privilege with true words of hurt by the injustice of its reality. Please help white people grieve with you by clearly defining that white privilege is not a personal accusation but rather as a very sad state of our culture that needs redeeming by all of God’s people together.
– Jay Simmons, co-lead pastor, South City Church
Dear Brothers and Sisters of South City Church,
As one of your pastors, and one who has a father, other family and friends in Ferguson, Missouri, I ask that you pray for the Lord’s peace and rest for the people in that community. We join our prayers to those of churches all over the Saint Louis area. This problem is our problem too, as we are all a part of the Metro Area. Please talk to your children as it is appropriate, address the issues and actions that are being publicized in the media. I personally don’t know all the facts surrounding young Mr. Michael Brown’s shooting, so I also need prayer for my frustration with not having answers to some questions being directed to me as a religious leader.
I would like to challenge every adult in our congregation to be involved with our youth. Please make this sacrifice for the benefit of these young people who are precious to God, and so they are precious to us. This is not meant only for those who have children. We as a church are a family unit, and all the youth are our youth. There is a greater chance of young people resisting the temptation to do wrong if they have learned the power of prayer and the concept of righteous anger; as explained to them from scripture and modeled for them by mentors who truly love them. Church families who forget this will inevitably fail their young people, who will fail to bear fruit among their neighbors.
The Lord knows what it is like to lose a Son to violence. And amazingly, He is a friend of sinners and he restores the fallen. May He restore this falling community. Pray for the police officer involved, as he too is somebody’s son. This is an opportunity for our church to show unity in the midst of circumstances that might otherwise tear us apart racially and politically. But we are The Church of the Living God; we will fall on our knees and hear The Holy Spirit declaring that God’s righteous justice and perfect peace will prevail.
South City Church, please believe that prayer is a powerful and necessary response to this matter. Prayer answers trial with triumph.
May your prayers go up every day for this great city.
Co-Lead Pastor Mike Higgins
Overwhelmed and frustrated with so many recent events in our world, and specifically in our city, I sent a text message to my bright lights and dear family in Tennessee, affectionately dubbed “Team Ellis”. Among other things, I wrote: “St. Louis, y’all. St. Louis”
Karen replied: “Girl, our whole world is churning, at home and abroad…Maranatha, Lord Jesus”. And I say amen. This is the prayer of the saints who cry out for renewal. Even as we wonder, ‘how shall we respond, or get involved?’ We know that the force of God’s power is evident in the oneness of the body expressed by gathering together, to worship and to bow before him in intercessory prayer. And to confess that many of us are ambivalent to the pain and violence that churns our world into lumps. It’s messy, and I will be first to admit that I prefer to live amongst the safe and tidy, and to set my sights on things that convince me there is no other way. This is one of countless preferences the Holy Spirit is reversing in me. Only blindness results in a belief that any distance can deliver us from mess, sin and pain. If every person who is washed in Jesus’ blood is also a member of his one body, then we are all in the mess. Together. Our pains and triumphs shared alike.
It is frustrating to have no power. But oh the freedom we have in leaning on the Lord! We cannot win unless he fights, and we stand still. My father addressed his own struggle with not having all the answers in a letter to our church. He ended by saying “please believe that prayer answers trial with triumph” and these words have been an encouragement. To those who breathe destruction upon suffering communities, peaceful protest seems like the most senseless, and thus impossible, response. God’s church takes that impossibility even further. For while we affirm the appeal for justice to civil and political powers, our greatest and most solemn appeal is to a court we have never seen. Our foolishness would have us trust more in a person who is neither a citizen of St. Louis, the US, or of the world.
Those who wish to get involved should appeal the courts as is appropriate. We should stand up and speak out. We should intentionally shop at businesses in Ferguson, praying a blessing on our city and counties with every step we take, dollar we spend, and greeting we share. Wave at the neighbors you pass, and the police officers as well! Saying “hello” is the cool water of kindness that bids people to hope.
Listen to the stories, concerns and resilience of people who live in the Ferguson area, and those who have been through similar situations. Pray for and love those who riot and wreak havoc, but do not be convinced that this anger is born of righteousness. Those who love and care for the Brown family would listen to them and heed them when they call for peace. Those who love their neighborhoods and appreciate the services their local businesses provide would not destroy them, razing them to the ground with no possibility of rebuilding.
By now we have all seen the images of hands lifted in protest, and in peace. And the church of Jesus takes this same action, but we lift our hands in – and unto – the supreme power of God, the only hope for restoration. We do this not only because we admit our own weakness, we do this because we can testify of his strength. “My hands are up” because I know where my help comes from.
South City Church and Friends,
For the past 10 years, a group of folks from South City Church and FirstLight have sponsored an utreach ministry at the annual PrideFest celebration in St. Louis. We have handed out water and heat-relief along the parade route on Sunday afternoons in late June. As you know, it can get really hot in the sun late June in St. Louis, so the water and heat relief are very welcome.
This has always been one of my favorite days of the year! I get to serve people whom I love and I have the opportunity to show the love of Christ to some who have been marginalized and discarded. Some of my favorite moments include the day, 7 years ago, when an openly gay man, well known in the community, helped us hand out water during a downpour. “Free water, compliments of First Light” he told all the passersby. While we had difficulty giving water out that day, he did not.
Then there was the “Christians Against Bullying” theme three years ago. Many people stopped by just to thank us for telling them that they mattered and that the young men who committed suicide the previous Fall, whom we acknowledged with tombstones, also mattered to us. One young man in particular, broke down in tears as he stared down at the picture of one of the suicide “victims” we acknowledge. He had written about this in a school project.
In the past, this event has been at Tower Grove Park on South Grand. Last year, it was moved to Soldier’s Memorial downtown. We didn’t hand out any water last year because we weren’t sure how about the parade route. But we still went down and ministered to the men and women in the crowd. We did so by putting tape over our mouths that read “Here 2 Listen”, while walking in front of a crowd who had gathered to mock at and yell at a group of protestors from a local church. I was able to make connections with some of the Pride Fest celebrators even though I was not talking.
So, this year we are going downtown to hand out water and to show the love of Jesus to the crowd!! The crowd last year was large! So the water need is also large. This year, we are asking our friends to help by donating water for the event. To do so, please contact Chris Gillam at [email protected] or call her at 314-604-1295 or talk to me after church on Sunday.
If you think you might be interested in helping out that Sunday afternoon, we could definitely use your hands and feet, and covered mouths, if that’s your preference! I do want to acknowledge that this is not an easy thing to do. You may feel uncomfortable with some of the things you might see. That’s OK. If you have questions about it, please come talk to me, call me or email me at the number or address above. If you’re sure and are ready to volunteer, come talk to me, call me or email me and I will let you know what to expect and where to be. The parade starts at noon, June 29, and will end shortly after 1PM, that’s when the fun begins!!
In God’s mind,
there was infinity.
a slowly whirling,
of terrifying bright night,
flames that sprinted in ellipses,
and marbled floating globes with
golden belts of grit and sand
tethering His earth with their
In God’s mind, there was
a glassy-toothed plesiosaurus,
soaring through the
In God’s mind, there was
a rumply, wrinkly boulder of an elephant,
curling his corrugated trunk
shaking his curving tusks.
And in God’s mind there was His Child.
In God’s mind there were His children:
heads, feet, hearts,
veins, eyes, and hands and mouths.
And once upon a time,
in God’s mind,
there was a
light-boned and fragile,
with a pert, sassy cock to its head–
a daring rascal of a bird!
It had a thin, flat tail like a paintbrush,
that flicked and bobbed as though
held loose in
an artist’s indecisive fingers–
As for the feet, their scales were like a lizard’s
gray, scalloped ones,
fringing eight skinny claws–
such a small bird!
And the wings –He smiled–
the wings were the best part,
those bronzy-edged feathers,
as neatly lapping over each other
as shingles on a roof.
in God’s mind there was
So do not fear; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Two sparrows are sold for a penny.
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
Not one of them is forgotten by God.
When the many
lest I am worth
word: he never will,
it’s never enough
my heart scorns
By Elise Gibson
Confession // Drought Prayer
Because the land is overgrazed
and the goats are thin
and the children are thin
and the hope (especially the hope) is thin.
Because the animals know
And you can see the quiet regret in their eyes.
Because we are without power
and our hands can’t move in those extraordinary ways
pulling the invisible strings of the clouds.
Because we see the clouds,
because we hear the thunder,
and because it breaks a little piece of the heart
when they move on
still carrying their rain.
Because the mealies grow dry
and small on the stalk.
Because You are the Bread of Life.
Because we are Your children.
Because we hunger.
Readings based on N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone and the Jesus Storybook Bible
Day #15: Mark 9.30-37
“The young hero and the horrible
giant” pg. 122
Day #16: Mark 9.38-50
“The Good Shepherd” pg. 130
Day #17: Mark 10.13-16
“A little servant girl and the proud
general” pg. 136
Day #18: Mark 10.17-31
“Operation ‘No More Tears’” pg. 144
Day #19: Mark 10.32-45
Daniel and the scary sleepover pg. 152
Day #20: Mark 10.46-52
“God’s messenger” pg. 160
Day #21: Mark 11.1-11
“Get ready!” pg. 170
Our hands were unclean. Our hearts were unprepared.
We were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table.
My hands are skilled at all of the intricate little deceptions
and they are so clumsy at even the simplest acts of good.
What little I manage is sabotaged by my treacherous heart
which yanks the strings to turn all good deeds
to my own glory and honor
and thus robs You of even that scant tithe of the whole,
which, of all rights, should be Yours in its entirety.
My hands whitewash my actions and my lips lie.
Do not even entirely believe these confessions of guilt,
for I know my heart well
and even this may be some attempt to deceive the un-deceivable;
to defraud the eternal source of wisdom.
My heart is truly full of darkness,
which turns the slivers of good
into tools to manipulate others into admiring me, wretched me,
instead of the God who made me.
You, O Father, are worthy of praise.
You, who have created all that is,
have lent me any good that I might have,
if I might be so bold to say,
at considerable risk to Your investment.
For I have proved even less reliable than that slave
who took his talent and buried it.
I, who have instead embezzled it,
and turned back to You empty handed.
And You, it must be truly infinite, Your mercy,
for You came looking for us, traitors and thieves,
not to avenge Your wrong, which was Your right,
but to shower us in mercy.
All glory is Yours, Father.
All good that is done
is done by You alone.
Kill in me all that steals glory and saps praise from You
and change my intractable heart into a straight road,
a smooth conduit for You.
Readings based on N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone and the Jesus Storybook Bible
Day#8 / 2nd Wednesday of Lent:
“The girl no one wanted” pg. 70
Day #9: Mark 6.30-44
“The forgiving prince” pg. 76
Day #10: Mark 6.45-56
“God to the rescue!” pg. 84
Day #11: Mark 7.1-23
“God makes a way” pg. 92
Day #12: Mark 8.22-9.1
“Ten ways to be perfect” pg. 100
Day #13: Mark 9.2-13
“The warrior leader” pg. 108
Day #14: Mark 9.14-29
“The teeny,weenie true king” pg. 116
Drought Prayer by Amy Pedersen.
God of Grace and Truth,
I come, sin-soaked and soul-sick
because You asked me to
because You threw open Your arms and said, “Come!”
So, unwashed and awkward, I come.
I do not know where we are going.
I barely know where I have been.
My feet, callous and crippled by the hardness of the road,
lose their footing.
I slow You down.
But just over the ridge,
just around the bend in the road,
a little too far for my straining eyes,
I hear You whisper, “Come!”
and I come.
by Amy Pedersen
Readings based on N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone and the Jesus Storybook Bible
Day #1: Ash Wednesday
“The Story and the Song” pg. 12
Day #2: Mark 1.35-2.12
“The beginning: a perfect home” pg. 18
Day #3: Mark 2.18-3.6
“The terrible lie” pg. 28
Day #4: Mark 3.31-35
“A new beginning” pg. 38
Day #5: Mark 4
“A giant staircase to heaven” pg. 48
Day #6: Mark 5
“Son of laughter” pg. 56
Day #7: Mark 6.1-13
“The present” pg. 62
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
We moved to St. Louis 9 months ago after my husband accepted a position for which he has been preparing for many years. After all the extended education and postdoctoral commitments were fulfilled, we prayed for over two years that the Lord would prepare a place for us, a community for us, a home for us for the next chapter. We prayed over this next season of our life, we prayed for another baby.
Now, I’m pregnant with our second child and into my third trimester. Two and a half weeks ago we found out our daughter had been growing in an unstable environment, if left undiagnosed, her chance of survival at birth was extremely slim, due to a rare condition (occurring 1/3000 pregnancies). The way she is attached in the womb is dangerous; the placement of vessels is unusual and precarious. The condition is hard to catch and goes largely undiagnosed, hence the high mortality rate…and by God’s great mercy we found out…they caught it. We found out that now, she not only had a chance at surviving, but a 95% chance of survival with appropriate intervention and no complications.
Her future went from what felt to be a death sentence to a pardon in the matter of one breath. How like us in our sinful depravity unknowing or unrepentant, a death sentence and then, with one breath…the opportunity to Live, if only our condition is caught. If only we understand our diagnosis. We get to live. Why am I not always a pile of tears on the floor, overwhelmed by the mercy of my diagnosis and the fact that it has been caught?
Our days look different now, I must be still to prevent my body’s preparation for labor. This means we’ve had to ask for help from people that don’t know us very well, and that we don’t know very well, but people who have been placed in our lives with intention. The time we spent praying for the Lord to prepare a place for us was not idol, was not in vain.
This is a desperate place.
It is a scary place.
It is a helpless place.
But this is the place He has prepared.
God is not surprised. God is not overwhelmed; he is not floored or baffled by how with all the ultrasounds and checks on our daughter, all the complications we have had throughout, this major issue was missed until now (ultimately his mercy and grace to us to put us in front of the right people to catch this latest development). He is not scared and he is definitely not helpless. He knows the ending to this story. He is who he is, in all things and in this. His glory is not less or diminished in our desperation; His power, no less real, His mercy no less apparent.
So let’s talk about the Body of Christ. God has been preparing this place, this community, this home, this pregnancy since before we knew to pray about it. Here is the discipline we must practice; we must trust that the Body he has placed us in is not by mistake. We must lean on the people he has provided. These are disciplines unfamiliar to most of us I think, trusting that being a part of a Body means not just serving, not just providing or acting on another’s behalf, but calling upon it to respond and help when you are a pile of tears, helpless on the floor, in crisis, desperation, or sin; likewise with joy, celebration, and laughter. Sharing all of life together, as a Body. Being vulnerable is hard, goes against the self-preservation mode in which we regularly function. Being forced to be vulnerable when in crisis is like surgery to save your life without anesthetic, you just have to do it or you die. This is too much to handle on our own. Letting the Body know when things are not okay, trusting that the Lord did not make a mistake in putting you in a new (or familiar, for that matter) community of people at a moment of brokenness in your life.
The Body is by no means perfect, but it is powerful. Every person in the Body, we are all just broken glass, with wounds, sin, scars, histories, hurt, anger, bitterness, sorrow, loss, and ache. Beautifully, God takes these broken pieces we bring to the table to make the beautiful mosaic that is the Body of Christ. My brokenness looks different than it did two weeks ago and it will look different five weeks from now. I am trying to trust the Lord with my broken pieces, that he would reshape my already broken glass into exactly how he wants it to be for my place in his Body; even if it means I will be shattered in the process. It is excruciating. It is gut wrenching. It is helpless and unknown.
The beautiful part remains though, even when I am a piece of glass shattered on the floor, God does not stop being who he is. His character, his glory is no less when you look through the broken or shattered glass. New depth, new elements, new perspective of his consistent and unchangeable character, this is revealed as we look through the glass again and again, and though my angles may change as I am reshaped by the brokenness, he does not.
In November, right after we found out we were having another little girl, our 3 year old protested as I carried her to the car, “but I cannot see!” Her eyes were closed, face buried onto my shoulder. In a moment of Divine grace, the Lord had me listen as I spoke to my daughter reassuring her. “That’s ok. You don’t have to see. Mommy can see, and I will carry you.”
This was my prayer as I prepared for advent and is my prayer as we embark upon this next season. When my eyes are closed or filled with tears and I cannot see, my head buried into your shoulder as a child being carried by her parent, Lord help me trust you as you carry me and tell me, “That’s ok. You don’t have to see. I can see, and I will carry you.” Lord, let my body relax and collapse into your grip, resting and trusting; for I am weary and cannot see.
And His continual response to me:
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
by Ruthie Vincill, February 2014
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