By: Christa Meland
Rev. Shawna Horn’s call to ministry has always centered around reconciliation—people being connected to one another and to God. Her congregation, Fairmount Avenue UMC in St. Paul shares her passion for racial justice and in recent years has engaged in small group discussions, learning series, and intentional efforts to identify and dismantle racism and white supremacy.
After George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, and subsequent riots limited neighbors’ access to essential supplies at a time when many were already struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, members knew they needed put their beliefs into action.
Fairmount Avenue UMC and Hamline Church are among several Twin Cities-area United Methodist churches providing hands-on assistance in immediate cleanup and relief efforts while also exploring how to engage in the longer-term work of addressing the root causes of racism.
Both located in close proximity to St. Paul’s University Avenue, where fires and destruction closed many businesses, the two churches decided to partner when it became clear needs would be great.
Last weekend, their members helped secure Emma Norton Residence, a dorm-style building that houses homeless women and families. Both churches also became food and supply collection sites. Their own members have donated items, but other local churches are also hosting drives and bringing items to the two churches to hold onto until they are needed for distribution within the community. Each time new items arrive at Fairmount Avenue or Hamline, members sort them into meal packs.
While these short-term relief efforts will continue for some time, Horn is also committed to leading her congregation in the deeper work of dismantling systemic racism.
“Peace without equity is really just oppression,” she said.
Ten percent of the residents who live in Fairmount Avenue’s zip code are in the top 1 percent of income earners in the nation. “Certain people in our faith community and neighborhood have access to board rooms and systems that are making policies,” Horn said. “What is our responsibility to show up in those meetings and intentionally dismantle systemic racism? That has been my charge.” This past Sunday, Horn asked each person to name the spheres in which they hold influence in order to hold them accountable for that work.
Minnehaha UMC in Minneapolis has also been assisting with cleanup while exploring bigger steps to combat racial injustice.
One morning last week, the church was asked to provide food to volunteers cleaning up Lake Street, where riots and looting had resulted in significant damage. After a few phone calls and a Facebook post, Minnehaha mobilized on the porch of a member who lived nearby. Members dropped off cleanup supplies and food and brought them to a drop-off point along Lake Street, where other members of the church were already cleaning up.
Members have also organized peaceful protest gatherings designed for all ages. Every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m., families sit six feet apart along Minnehaha Parkway with blankets and picnic dinners, holding signs and talking to each other about how to dismantle racism and create systemic change. Parents have been exploring how to talk to their kids about racism and the death of George Floyd—and people are volunteering to lead studies on anti-racism.
“We are a largely white congregation, and loving our neighbor calls us to step out more fully into the justice lane, not just feeding people, but working to understand and then change the systems,” said Rev. Becky Sechrist. “We are well aware that people of color disproportionately represent those who use the food shelf and MinneHarvest, our monthly free food giveaway. Loving our neighbor means that we work to change the things that bring them to our food shelf while also feeding them.”
Sechrist said her personal call to address racism stems from Micah 6:8: Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
“I have always served congregations that looked like me, lived in neighborhoods where my neighbors mostly look like me, and this is seems a prime opportunity to step further into the anti-racist movement,” she said. “I feel embarrassed that I wasn’t already knee-deep in it—that I have lived in my white privilege, walking humbly with God, loving kindness, but not spending as much time on bringing about justice. This is the moment to step in, to follow where God is already leading. I do believe that all of this is part of my calling.”
Like Minnehaha UMC, Epworth UMC in Minneapolis also got a call last week asking if the church could serve as medic station over the weekend.
“We had to help,” said Pastor Steve Reiser. “Epworth is in a ‘year of action.’ Our mission is ‘Nourish Faith. Do Good. Welcome All. BE Church.’ This was certainly an action we could take in a time crying for action. Also, it gave us an opportunity to both do good and welcome all.”
Over a three-day period, medics treated people for smoke inhalation, burns, and injuries from tear gas and marker rounds. Volunteers transported some to nearby hospitals.
Meanwhile, Epworth members assisted with a massive food and supply distribution to homeless shelters, encampments, and other support organizations.
“We were unable to sustain the blistering pace set by the medics and the rioters and protesters,” said Reiser. But Epworth is exploring how to engage in helping its community heal over the long-term.
Doing the long-term work of dismantling racism isn’t going to be simple—but the churches engaged in short-term response efforts say it’s critical.
“The most important thing to remember is that all of the events from the past week were instigated by an act of white supremacy that…resulted in the death of George Floyd, among dozens of others in our country,” said Horn. “Racism has been so deeply manifested in our world that we must do the work to undo it.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church