Coming Alive in the Midst of Death

By Elizabeth Durant, MDiv, Member-in-Discernment, Parkrose Community UCC, Portland, OR

say-her-nameThe theme of our 2015 Central Pacific Conference Annual Meeting is “Come Alive! Passion and Vitality in the Local Church.” What a timely invitation to seek and experience the renewing power of the Holy Spirit! Declining membership rates and dire predictions, discussions about why church is “dying”, and questions about the relevance of faith are all in the news. Yet we also remember that we are “Easter people,” and that the body of God has died and risen before.

Local church, whether with 15 members or 500, is the heart of our work and life together as the United Church of Christ. Each our congregations in the CPC has a meaningful history of presence and service in the local community.

And our communities are filled with struggle and death. In a way, it seems painfully ironic to focus on becoming more alive as a church in a time when people are quite literally dying on our city streets. Yet perhaps this is exactly why we need to come alive: we need our lives to make a difference so that others may live.

In his sermon at Parkrose Community UCC in May, Rev. Cecil Prescod reminded us that Holy Spirit moves like a wind, bringing wisdom from unexpected sources, often from the very people who we overlook or dismiss as unwise. Rev. Prescod’s words came to mind recently as I stood with over a hundred people in downtown Portland to honor the life of 18 trans women, most of them people of color, murdered this year.

Volunteers shared short notes about each trans woman’s life and we called out their names: India Clarke, 25, studied cosmetology and loved to make people smile; Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, 30s, was a member of Bayview Church in San Francisco; Amber Monroe, 20, was a student at Wayne State University. Mourning each death, we acknowledged that trans people are often treated as pariahs, invisible, disposable, not worth remembering. Their grieving friends and families need support, and we are called to advocate for an end to hatred and injustice.

Our mission as church in the midst of public grief and violent death seems clear. In the United Church of Christ, we celebrate the “priesthood of all believers,” by which we mean that we are, each of us, called to be ministers. Each of us is required, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn.” How is your local church making a difference for people where you live?

Our annual gathering this year is an opportunity to discover how we can enliven, inspire, and encourage each other as we continue to “be church” together. Your CPC Justice and Witness Ministry Team will be extending the invitation to join a newly forming CPC Racial Justice Network. How can our conference support your local church as you come alive to answer God’s call? Join us in Pendleton to find out.

Running and Dying While Black

by Jennifer Seaich, First Congregational UCC, Pocatello, ID
being black 2A few weeks ago in Baltimore, Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old black man, made eye contact with police. He then ran and was chased, handcuffed and placed facedown on the floor of a police van. His cries for help were ignored. Six officers were charged in Freddie Grays’ death. The surprise is that police were charged, not that another young black man is dead.

A brief video in which an African American mother chases and beats her 16-year-old son in the middle of a Baltimore riot has gone viral, with captions like “Hero Mom!” or “You go, Girl!”

Facebook commenters seem convinced this mother beat her son because rioting is wrong, yet she reported she was terrified her son could be another Freddie Gray.

It’s somehow funny when a tough black momma puts her hands on her hips and smacks her boy, though few people cheer at a parent hitting a child in the grocery store parking lot.