As we prepare for Advent, our nation finds itself facing the realities of racial inequality. In the words of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, “The Episcopal Church joins many others in deep lament over the tragic reality that continues to be revealed in Ferguson, Missouri.”
Faithful Episcopalians may hold many different views on the legal questions surrounding the death of Michael Brown. What should bind us together is our sorrow and grief at the death of a young man, a precious child of God, and what his death reveals about our culture.
The events of Ferguson – born out of deep structural inequality, division, brokenness, and mistrust – could have played out in almost any town or city in a nation with such a troubled racial past – and present – as ours. American communities are in lament because the events in Ferguson show us something about ourselves and the work each of us must undertake to build the beloved community that affords all people the dignity God intends for them.
Many wonder when peace will be restored in the St. Louis Metropolitan area. The protestors on the street would say, “There can be no peace without justice.” The peaceful demonstrations we have seen – clergy marching and shutting down intersections, hundreds quietly laying down on the floor of a mall to disrupt shopping on “Black Friday” – are asking us to stay awake. The hashtag #Staywoke is trending on social media in response to Ferguson. How can we stay awake to the realities of racism in our own communities? How do we let what happened in Ferguson serve as a clarion call so that we can begin to address the daily prejudice and injustices that exist for people of color in every community?
Many congregations will host conversations about Ferguson this Advent season. Advent is a good time to take up the deep work of engaging racism and other issues that divide us. Advent is a time for waiting with hope.
Christ was born in the midst of a divided and violent society. The Word was made flesh among a people who faced bias from their neighbors and persecution from the occupying Romans.
Jesus modeled a different kind of community. Jesus broke bread with outcasts and sinners, with religious authorities and Roman officials. Jesus pointed to a vision of the new community, and invites us to the difficult work of reconciliation. As your congregations talk about the events in the news concerning Ferguson, we invite you to use these resources and conversation starters.
Scripture to consider in light of Ferguson from the Lectionary for Advent:
Conversation starters for elementary school children:
- In Ferguson Missouri, some churches are staying open all night for people who are scared. I wonder how God can help us when we are scared. What do you do when you are scared? Who are the people you can turn to when you are scared?
- A lot of people are sad because a young man died. They are sad because they say this shows that our communities don’t act fairly and treat all people equally. Jesus talked about a different kind of community, shaped by love. What does a community looks like where people are treated equally? What would a community based on equality and full of Jesus’ love would look like? (Consider letting children draw a picture, build with blocks, create a drama/play, write a poem or create a news story about a community that was operated out of love and equality).
- We are starting a time of hope as we look toward Christmas. We all hope for Christmas presents, but what else do we hope for? A lot of people hope that one day people of every skin color will be treated with the same love. Do you hope for this? How can we pray for this? (You can invite the children to make cards and posters of love for those in the community of Ferguson, and send them to a local church so the messages get passed along.))
Conversation starters for youth:
- Many of the leaders in Ferguson are young people. High school students have been out in the streets and are going to trainings to learn how to keep their fellow protestors peaceful. How do you see youth leading in your community? How do you keep important discussions alive and point a way forward?
- The Presiding Bishop, in her message about Ferguson after the Grand Jury Decision, said, “the racism in this nation is part of our foundation.” How do you see racism present in your community? Do people treat one another as created in the image of God? What do you do to counter racism and other ways people are excluded?
- "Stay awake." The first Sunday of Advent centers on the message of being watchful. #StayWoke is currently trending on social media in response to Ferguson. Voices are calling us to #staywoke to the realities of racism, to the suffering in our communities. How could your church help your community to #staywoke? How do we avoid putting this important conversation aside?
Conversation starters for adults:
- Isaiah says “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down” in the first reading of Advent. How can we expect Christ to come in the midst of conflict? Where do you see signs that the Spirit is moving in the midst of what is happening in Ferguson?
- We often use the word “sanctuary” to describe a place in a church building. Some churches in St. Louis are serving as literal sanctuaries, where all who need a break from the protests of the streets are given water, medical attention, and a place to rest. How does your church serve as a sanctuary? How do you give rest and protection to those who need it?
- The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, has compared the young women and men protesting in the streets of Ferguson to John the Baptist. What is the prophetic possibility in the midst of this conflict? To what new vision of community are we being called?