Online prayer vigil offers lament, call to action after death of George Floyd
May 28, 2020
By: Karla Hovde
A day after the much publicized death of George Floyd, Minnesota United Methodists were among nearly 400 people who grieved, prayed, and were called to dismantle racism and act for justice in an online prayer and protest vigil organized and co-hosted by Rev. Tyler Sit. The online vigil followed an in-person protest in south Minneapolis at the intersection where Floyd lost consciousness Monday and the nearby police precinct.
Floyd, a black man, died in the custody of Minneapolis police. A disturbing video that has gone viral showed an officer kneeling on the unarmed man’s neck for several minutes while he struggled to breathe, and the four officers who were at the scene have since been fired.
Calling attention to injustice
New City Church, a church plant that Sit serves, is part of the South Minneapolis neighborhood where Floyd was killed—and Sit felt called to lead the vigil because “if we are to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, we must necessarily address the everyday things that make people fear for their lives,” he said.
Rev. Laquaan Malachi, who serves North UMC in Minneapolis, attended the in-person protest and spoke at the online vigil. He explained that John Wesley’s Three Simple Rules—do no harm, do all the good you can, and stay in love with God—prompted his participation.
“You cannot love your neighbor if you don't show up for them,” said Malachi. “Killing unarmed citizens is evil. Therefore, protesting this evil is necessary and an act of faith. God has called me to be bold, and I try my best to live into that. I work hard to not let fear or consequences get in the way of doing the right thing. Calling attention to injustice is always the right thing.”
“When we come together as community, the trauma is less and the healing is greater,” Sit told attendees as he opened the online vigil, which was streamed on Facebook and consisted of prayers, scripture readings, laments, calls to action, and songs. “If we can’t deeply grieve and lament and feel the deep pain of injustice, then we won’t receive the type of transformation that will result in a transformation of the world.”
Hard but necessary truth
Malachi began his remarks during the online vigil by speaking to fellow black attendees. “There is nothing wrong with us,” he said. “We are not the problem. Whiteness is the problem, racism is the problem, the system is the problem. We are alright.”
To the white attendees, Malachi continued with what he called a “hard but necessary truth.” Even if a white person has never individually caused direct harm to a black person, white people as a whole have done immeasurable harm to Black people and communities, he explained. “We have every right not to trust you until you have proven yourself. That’s not being mean—that’s survival.” He said the work of survival can’t be done by black people alone. “To the white folks listening, you need to ask yourself if you have done enough,” he said.
Mayyadda Major, director of inward transformation at New City Church, added that it’s up to white people and non-black people of color to understand their location in society and use it to begin to take action. “Grieve, yes, feel your feelings,” she said. “But it should not stop there. This space is not the end of action; it is the beginning of the action.”
Actions we can take
Leaders of the vigil called for all Minnesotans to take action. Sit suggested several strategies:
Center marginalized voices. The people most deeply affected by historical trauma and the trauma of current events are the people who should be able to decide what the course of healing looks like. One way to do this is to amplify the messages of organizers and activists in the black community.
Engage in both inward and outward transformation. It can be hard to recognize the things we believe or do that stop us from being able to fully work for justice. Having a spiritual practice of inward transformation balances the public, outward work of transforming oppressive systems. “We pray, invite inward transformation, and accept that we might not be 100 percent correct,” said Sit. “The remaining percent that needs to change is something that we ourselves are responsible for working on, not out of a sense of shame, but out of a sense of solidarity.”
Talk with people in your circles. “It is not a person of color’s job to defend ourselves, especially after a black person is slain,” said Sit. “Your opportunity to be in this movement is to look laterally and see who in your network are not here tonight and to have conversations with them. You have relationships and power that you can leverage in ways that other folks cannot.”
“I encourage my United Methodist family to let Mr. Floyd’s death catalyze a long-term discussion in your church, not just a burst of reactive energy,” Sit added after the vigil. For example, New City Church will continue to talk about Floyd’s death in prayers and sermons until a just resolution has been found. Sit pointed out that even if it doesn’t make headlines, racism exists in every community in Minnesota. “It is through the love of God that the church can seek out racism and heal its terrible impacts,” he said.
Rev. Dana Neuhauser, minister of public witness at New City Church, said the online vigil was both an opportunity to mourn together and to hold the systems that perpetuate harm accountable. She personally feels called to nurture ongoing opportunities for people to do the hard work of repentance and repair. “We cannot save the declaration that ‘Black lives matter’ just for protests,” she said. “We have to work to transform hearts and systems so that the declaration is a lived reality.”
Rev. Katie Matson-Daley, pastor of First UMC in Red Wing, attended the vigil, and said she will follow through with Sit’s strategy of both internal and external transformation. “As a woman in a white body, that means both equipping myself with spiritual and body practices that will sustain me to do this work for the long haul, but also to keep doing the work of addressing my own implicit biases and the ways racialized stress shows up in my body and in my responses.”
After the vigil, Malachi challenged United Methodists, especially white people, to not critique the protesters until they have done all they can to do to combat racism and prevent miscarriages of justice.
“Racism is a sin, and we have promised in our baptismal vows to combat evil,” he concluded. “May the Lord help us live into that—in this moment, and in the moments that will come afterwards.”