Responding to racism: What the Great Plains is doing to make a difference

David Burke

7/7/2020

Tragic events of the spring and summer of 2020 have brought to the forefront something that Black Americans have known for some time: The struggle for equality is still very real. 

With a mission for mercy and justice in Nebraska and Kansas, the Great Plains Conference is committed to non-violent expressions against racism and bigotry, as well as educating our communities about a Christian commitment to equality. 

In this space, which we will update as warranted, we will focus on the work that is being done by our churches to inform their communities and actions they take to stamp out racism. If your church has an innovative or impactful method in the stand against racism, contact David Burke in our communications department, dburke@greatplainsumc.org
 

Updated Aug. 26

'Keep God in it'

Watching the coverage of racial demonstrations over the past few months, the Rev. Dr. Wayne Reynolds thought something was missing.

God.

“In watching on the news, city after city, I didn’t see any semblance, any indication, any presence that God is a part of this experience. I didn’t see where the church was involved, I didn’t see where clergy were involved in guiding this movement, this march, this protest,” said Reynolds, pastor of Crete Grace United Methodist Church in Nebraska. “I just didn’t see a country that loves God. I just didn’t see the Holy Spirit in leadership at all. People are leaving God out of the decision-making process in this country.”

Rev. Dr. Wayne Reynolds

Reynolds wants to change that, starting with a march at the Nebraska Capitol in Lincoln from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 4.

Beginning at the north steps of the capitol building, clergy from the Blue River District and beyond are invited to march around the capital five times (5, Reynolds said, symbolizing God’s grace).

The theme of the march is one that has prevailed in Reynolds’ sermons since the beginning of the pandemic: Keep God in it.

“Just reminding America that what you see, in what you hear and in what you do, to ‘Keep God in it,’” he said. “If you’re educating, if you’re policing, if you’re shopping, don’t eliminate God. Don’t remove God from who we are and what we’re doing. A nation that does that has a shortened window, a shortened reign. We’ve not only moved it off the back burner, we’ve taken it off the stove completely.”

He will supply "Keep God in it" signs for the marchers.

Reynolds said the current demonstrations are not like those led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s.

“It was crystal clear that the spirit behind this was Christianity,” Reynolds said. “This man was a godly man, and he stood with a Bible and spoke from a pulpit. That’s all absent.”

Reynolds hopes to have another march at the end of September for laity, and to expand the scope to include all denominations sometime after that.

“We are community leaders,” he said. “Let’s lead.”




Updated Aug. 4

Podcast conversation

When the Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson and her husband, the Rev. Adam Barlow-Thompson, organized an online book club in June to discuss anti-racism, they were overwhelmed with the response. 

With the book “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America” as the touchpoint, a dozen families from Wichita Calvary UMC — where she is deacon and director of outreach — the online discussion included 12 households. 

Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson

But it was in a separate online gathering that got another 40 households involved and talking about the parenting book and their own biases with race. 

“It was a joy, because we were reaching people we hadn’t spoken to in years, that we went to seminary and college with, high school friends, friends of friends who were connected to us in small ways,” Ashley said. “It was neat to see people from across the nation working together to learn more about the racism and bias we have in ourselves and how we can combat that and stop the ways we were raising our kids with those same things.” 

Even Ashley’s youth pastor from her teenage years in Wisconsin was part of the conversation, she said. 

With enthusiasm from the nationwide response, the Barlow-Thompsons are starting a new, weekly endeavor at noon CDT Thursdays, beginning Aug. 6.  

Participants will listen to episodes of the 30-minute National Public Radio podcast “Code Switch,” selected by the couple, and then discuss the issues raised. Here is the form to sign up for the discussion

Barlow-Thompson said she and her husband are fans of the podcast, hosted by journalists of color from across the country. 

“It tells stories in perspectives that I’ve never been a part of before,” she said. “They are very inviting in the way they’re telling the truth … and it encourages you to move forward instead of feeling stuck in guilt or shame. It helps you feel resilient in the ways to respond to racism.” 

The Barlow-Thompsons are among the co-founders of the Neighboring Movement, which began in Wichita as SoCe Life. It encourages individuals to develop relationships with those outside their doors. 

That relationship aspect continues in the couple’s anti-racism beliefs, she said. 

“We believe that justice happens when we are in a relationship with others who can make an impact,” she said. “We wanted to find another way to reconnect with people that we love and continue this work.” 

Ashley said she hopes listening to the episodes spurs more than just discussion. 

“The goal is to not just be more self-aware, but to own what we have within us to be anti-racist and do something about it,” she said. 

“We feel very convicted that as people of privilege, as people who are white, we need to have conversations with other white folk to ask, how are we a part of the problem and how can we be part of the solution,” she  added. “We’re excited to see who shows up for this conversation.” 


Updated July 22

Reaching out 

Diana Chapel brought a message of unity to the community of Ogden, Kansas — although she had to repeat herself. 

Diana Chapel

Chapel, pastor of the Ogden Friendship House of Hope for the past 11 years, was to be a speaker at Unity in the Community, a celebration of Black-owned residents and businesses in the town located between Manhattan and Fort Riley. 

She was asked to give a talk, but discovered no one had a microphone, so “a little group gathered in the shade, and I kind of yelled at them when I talked,” she said with a laugh. 

Chapel received positive response and was asked to record the talk so more people could hear it. It became her sermon for June 12 (sermon begins at approximately the 10:00 mark).   

She talked about her upbringing in a predominately white town in Wisconsin, and how she was determined to educate herself about people who were not Caucasian. 

“It has brought me face-to-face with my failing, my discomfort with racism, sexism, and various other ‘isms’ that I’ve encountered,” she said. “Although it was well-intentioned, it educated myself to be better — a better person, a better listener, and a better ally.” 

Ogden is racially diverse, she said, with about one-fourth Black population, Chapel estimates.  

Chapel said she is proud of the diversity in her ministry. 

“For my congregation, as small as it is, we have a fairly good mix,” she said. “We have Asian-Americans and some African-Americans, and we have had a bunch of Native Americans.” 



Updated July 7

Online book discussion

Six Omaha churches are combining for online discussions of anti-racism books — each church with a different title — and encouraging participation from each other’s congregations and those without a church home.

The Omaha-area Inclusive Methodist Churches – Bellevue Aldersgate, First UMC, Hanscom Park, St. Luke, Saint Paul Benson and Urban Abbey — began their book studies via Zoom the first full week of July.

Six different books will be discussed in seven weekly sessions.

“It was a way we thought we could help each other out, so instead of one book being offered for my church, now there’s seven or eight,” said the Rev. Chris Jorgensen, Hanscom Park pastor who first brought up the online book club in discussion with the other Reconciling Ministries churches in Omaha.

Those interested can email a facilitator for a private link to a Zoom session to discuss the book.

Days before her first discussion was to begin, Jorgensen had 15 people — some from her congregation, a few she didn’t know — signed up.

“It’s almost too much. I’ve never had 15 people for a book club before,” she said. “I’m hopeful the other churches are having as much positive response as I have.”

Urban Abbey has already discussed several books on the list, and this time will tackle three titles, including “Raising White Kids.”

“It’s almost the anti-racism 201,” Jorgensen said, referring to secondary-level college classes.

Jorgensen said she was surprised at the array of books being discussed.

“It turned out we had this diversity of books,” she said. “I was sort of surprised that it wasn’t three churches all doing the same book.”

Beginning her fourth year as pastor of Hanscom Park, Jorgensen said the subject of racism hasn’t really been explored in this way until the book club idea arose.

“I always try to lift up the voices of people of color, but we haven’t specifically gotten into these sorts of conversations yet,” she said. “For us, it’s kind of a first conversation, which is great.”

 


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