“As an inclusive community of love and support, St. James United Church of Christ is a spiritual home for all people to grow in faith and come together in service.”
This is the mission statement of St. James UCC. In just 30 words, it conveys to visitors and members alike who we are and what we stand for. Inclusion. Love. Support. Spirituality. Faith. Service.
In 2014, our congregation voted to officially adopt an Open and Affirming statement, making our stance of inclusion clear. It reads, in part, “The people of St. James United Church of Christ in Havertown, Pennsylvania, affirm our belief that every person has dignity and worth and is a beloved child of God…We acknowledge the injustice and prejudice that many individuals in our society have faced throughout history and still to this day. We believe this is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings.”
Today, we reaffirm our belief that all lives have dignity and worth – and we acknowledge with deep sorrow and regret that this has not been the lived experience of so many of our black and brown siblings in this country.
Following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor – and countless others over the years, decades, and centuries – we passionately denounce the systemic, ingrained racism, bias, and anti-blackness inherent in our justice, legal, political, education, healthcare, and business systems, which have caused so much suffering. We recognize that, too often, white people have remained silent in the face of these unjust systems of white privilege, or woefully ignorant of them altogether, as they continued to benefit from them.
We mourn the lives lost, not just this past week, but over the past 400 years, owing to a society which is fundamentally biased in favor of white Americans, and which disadvantages persons of color.
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At the end of 2019, following an extensive period of discussion, research, prayer, and planning, our church ratified a new five-year strategic plan which included three key areas of focus: Children and Youth; Environmental Sustainability; and Race.
It is likely divine timing and grace which led us to the topic of race just months before seeing such a widespread, deafening call for individual change and systemic reform in our country, and we hereby reaffirm our commitment to helping enact positive change. So far, St. James has sponsored discussions on books such as “Raising White Children: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America” and “White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” and church members have expressed an interest in returning to these and other resources as we seek to learn more about the intrinsic inequality and injustice in our country.
In addition to learning and listening, we commit to taking real, effective action in the coming weeks and months. This may mean writing letters to elected officials, marching in protests, having difficult conversations with each other, friends, and family, reaching out and connecting with congregations of color, sponsoring equity training for our community, or other actions we have yet to determine. While we recognize that we may do things imperfectly as we seek to do our part, we also know that imperfect action is better than inaction – and as we know better, we will do better.
In closing, let us remember the words of Isaiah (32: 15-18), that when the Spirit is poured down on us:
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
The work of righteousness will be peace,
And the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.
My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation,
In secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
May the Spirit pour down upon us, that we may carry out the work of righteousness and bring about peace, security, and equity for all. Amen.
As a congregation, St. James has a set of core values, which we use to help us prioritize our time and resources, identify when we have gotten off-course, and provide a way for us to measure our faithfulness to God, one another, and the world God so deeply loves. These core values are:
If we are to live out these values, and truly use them as intended – to prioritize, self-assess, and get us back on track – then we must make a change in how we as a church are showing up in the world.
We must actively demonstrate compassion to black and brown individuals who suffer daily from inescapable oppression – as well as white people who are struggling to understand this reality and respond with love and action.
We must commit to diversity and build relationships more intentionally with people of color, knowing that our congregation is far less diverse than the community in which we exist.
We must embrace honesty, even when the truth hurts – perhaps especially when it does.
We must respect the experiences and voices of people of color, and seek to gain an understanding of what systemic racism looks and feels like to them on a daily basis.
Most of all, we must strive for social justice for our black and brown siblings, and do what we can to effect real and lasting change in ourselves, our church, our community, our country, and our world.
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