By: Christa Meland
The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries has given a $20,000 grant to the Minnesota Conference that will be used to provide counseling, housing assistance, and food to Twin Cities residents heavily impacted by the uprising following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The grant is specifically to be used for trauma-informed healthcare, rental and housing assistance, and food and hygiene items. Funds will be used alongside money collected as part of Bishop Bruce R. Ough’s “Just Love” special appeal.
“It is our responsibility as persons of faith, and particularly as followers of Jesus in the Methodist tradition, to address the pervasive pandemic of racism,” Ough said when announcing the special appeal last month.
Rev. Kevin Schill, who is retired, is leading a “Rapid Response Team” that was formed in the days after Floyd’s death as churches and individuals sought ways to assist in rebuilding the community. In recent weeks, he has spent significant time connecting congregations wanting to help with immediate needs they can address—like providing food to Minneapolis food shelves. (A closed Facebook group specifically for Minnesota United Methodists has become the go-to place for sharing needs and opportunities; note that you’ll need to provide your church name and pastor’s name to join.)
Just this morning, Schill visited a newer homeless encampment after a local woman saw The United Methodist Church’s anti-racism billboards and asked the conference to help. Schill came away with a list of items urgently needed—everything from trash bags and garbage cans to clothing, blankets, and insect repellent—and he’s working to connect churches wanting to help with the opportunity to provide these items.
Meanwhile, Schill and other Twin Cities leaders are also in the process of convening a team that will develop a longer-term approach to assessing needs and distributing conference funds to help address them. The team will include leaders of churches on the frontlines providing assistance as well as leaders of color directly impacted by systemic racism and the recent uprising.
Schill points out that grocery store closures in the days after Floyd’s death exacerbated economic challenges many were already experiencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic and have left a significant number of families in a precarious financial situation and without access to essential items. Schill fears a “tsunami of housing instability” when a governor’s order halting evictions expires in the coming weeks or months.
What remains to be determined is the best role for the church in addressing these problems on an ongoing basis—and that’s something the team being formed will need to explore. For example, Schill said it’s unclear at this point whether conference funds would be used to provide direct support to people needing assistance with rent or to partner with other organizations that are actively addressing homelessness and housing insecurity in other ways.
Schill’s hope is that the team being formed will not only be a bridge to help the church meet vital community needs but also that it can identify and facilitate some of the deep and systemic changes the church needs to make in order to truly be anti-racist.
“How do we show up as church to speak to issues of housing instability? How do we show up as the church to speak to issues of racism and violence against people of color?” said Schill. “It gets at the very heart of our call to be the church in our neighborhoods and to be responsive to those whose voices have been at the margins for far too long. As the church, how do we listen to those voices and walk alongside them as the body of Christ? It’s a very hopeful opportunity for us to grow, to listen, and to be the body.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church