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LISTENING TO FERGUSON

During the past week I have been out in Colorado (Grand Lake, near the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park) on vacation with my wife and some friends.  During that, I intentionally exercised a “media fast.”  Upon returning home, we reconnected to hear the news of the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. As we watch, listen and learn, the situation and people of Ferguson have much to teach us.  The need for racial justice remains large.  The capacity for misunderstanding is huge.  Amid the cacophony of sounds and images coming from Ferguson, we need to sift through the noise and see Christ.  God is calling us to engage in faithful healing. One of the very best pieces of writing on the situation in Ferguson comes from Bishop Robert Schnase (United Methodist Bishop of the Missouri Conference).  In particular Bishop Schnase highlights the Christ-revealing work of Rev. Willis Johnson and others.  I share Bishop Schnase’s letter with his permission and strongly urge the reader to follow both links back to source and listen to the reports. Dear friends,  People have asked about what The United Methodist Church is doing in response to the events in recent days in Ferguson, Missouri, and so I’d like to lift up a few significant points of engagement and offerings of ministry.  The Missouri Conference launched a new church start in Ferguson two years ago after identifying the community as underserved by The United Methodist Church.   Wellspring United Methodist Church is located two blocks from the area seen frequently on television news in recent days.  The congregation has offered services of prayer and reconciliation and provided meeting space for community and church leaders.  Under the leadership of Rev. Willis Johnson, the church has been on the forefront of efforts to ease tensions, offer consolation and prayer for those who grieve, and to seek the truth about the events that led to the death of Michael Brown. Let me strongly suggest that you listen to the following National Public Radio interview with Rev. Willis Johnson for the program All Things Considered.   The interview and the accompanying photograph are powerful, and they bear witness to the courage and faith of United Methodists on the front lines as they engage issues of race, anger, fear, and a longing for reconciliation.  http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue  I would also draw your attention to the article by Heather Hahn of the United Methodist News Service.  Her article highlights the involvement of other United Methodist Churches in the St. Louis area and from across Missouri that have reached out with volunteers to help with educational ministries for children and youth during the time that the Ferguson schools have been closed.   The Missouri Conference Office of Mission, Service, and Justice has also offered support and volunteers to help with such basic tasks as clean up and support for those businesses that have been looted or suffered damage.   Heather’s article can be found at:  http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/church-leaders-strive-to-be-peacemakers-in-ferguson  United Methodist voices, including that of the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (an active United Methodist himself), have sought to de-escalate rather than to intensify, to work toward peace and justice rather than to avoid, blame, or ignore.  We continue to hold in our prayers all those who have most personally and painfully been affected by the violence, and we continue to look for opportunities to serve and to bring a ministry of healing to a community that has been deeply hurt. . . .  Yours in Christ,  Robert Schnase Bishop, Missouri Annual Conference The United Methodist Church There are important lessons to learn in listening to Ferguson.  I invite us to join in our prayers and then take the next step in service and ministry as the Holy Spirit leads us.