From Celebrating Stories to Doing Our Own Work: Racial Justice Leadership in the UCC and at Old First

From Celebrating Stories to Doing Our Own Work: Racial Justice Leadership in the UCC and at Old First

“…The gradual movement of the UCC toward  racial and social justice within it’s own household, as well as in the larger community, is due primarily to the persistence and often irritating pressure maintained by the 2% of its constituency which is black.”

(Rev. Dr. Lawrence N. Jones, Dean Emeritus, Howard University Divinity School. New Conversations, 1999)

Over the past few weeks, our Adult Forum has focused on the contributions of African Americans to shaping the UCC into a multiracial and multicultural denomination over the course of its history.  It is a story, like Rev. Jones mentions above, that is primarily about individuals – courageous, dogged people who have challenged the UCC from within and without, at both the local church and national level.

Last Sunday we learned about one of these figures: Dr. Charles Cobb.  People who knew Dr. Cobb know that he was, simply put, a force of nature. It was in his role as the founding director of the Church’s Commission for Racial Justice that Dr. Cobb agitated the UCC to fund the defense of the Wilmington Ten, ten activists who were falsely convicted of bombing a grocery store in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1971.  The “ten” were pardoned by North Carolina’s governor just last year.

Today, in the wake of the Michael Dunn case and too many other instances of violence and violation perpetrated against and black and brown people on a daily basis, it is hard not to wonder about how Dr. Cobb would be pushing the UCC in 2014.  How have civil rights battles transformed since the days of the Wilmington Ten? Do we always need leaders like Charlie Cobb to keep our nose to the grindstone when it comes to our commitments to racial justice? How do we remain vigilant in doing that work in our own relationships, communities, and churches?

This forum has been just the beginning of generating such questions, which don’t have easy answers.  What we do know is that in learning about and celebrating the lives of African American UCC’ers, and non-black allies that were at their side, we get glimpses of a much larger story that were are continuously in the process of writing.  We have heard Jackie William’s story about being, for several years, one of Old First’s only African American members.  Delilah has been reminded of her own journey moving between several UCC churches as an adult and growing up in a Christian Church in North Carolina.  This Sunday, we will hear from Bob Polk about his time at Riverside Church in New York City.

As we move into our final two sessions, we are recognizing what we knew from the beginning- that 45 minutes is not nearly enough time to get into the depth of conversation required to do justice to these stories or to delve into how both racial and class diversity plays out at Old First today.

In our last session, the idea of holding a Sacred Conversation on Race at Old First – a process of more intentional and intensive dialogue about anti-racism – was put forth.  So, we ask, are we up for it?

Join us for Adult Forum, which happens at 10 AM on Sunday morning in our social hall.