SPOTLIGHT: Witness

SPOTLIGHT: Witness

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Pilgrim Church in Sherborn partners with AME church to examine racial experiences

Pilgrim Church, UCC, in Sherborn, MA has partnered with Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, MA to take an inward look at how race and racial experiences have shaped the two congregations. The project "Tales from the Stoop" included creating a powerful video sharing the stories of members from both of these churches. The story below was written by Judy Cranshaw and Kay Dunlap, members of Pilgrim Church's Sacred Arts Ministry.


Images from the video "Witness" (view below)
When Pilgrim Church was forced to close due to Covid-19 in March of 2020, the Sacred Arts Ministry began to wrestle with how it might engage the congregation and the community. Seeking inspiration, it hired Michael Dowling, founder of SPOKE, a non-profit dedicated to the healing and transcendent power of public art.

Not long after Michael and Sacred Arts started working together, Black Lives Matter protests over the death of George Floyd began and we decided to focus the project on the church’s and members’ personal histories relating to race relations. The artistic team was expanded to include a filmmaker and a mixed media artist. Together, they created "Tales from the Stoop."
 
The project began with a ritual cleansing of the steps of the church, symbolizing a new beginning in its commitment to social and racial justice. During a guided meditation, members washed their hands in bowls of water, then used the water to wash the steps, and broke the bowls. The shards were used to create mosaic panels including words and phrases about racial justice which were later installed on the front of the church.

The other major component of the project was the creation of a short documentary film based on interviews with members of Pilgrim Church, and its sister church, Bethel AME in Jamaica Plain, MA.

The film "Witness" begins by highlighting the role of the church in sustaining racism in America and shows how the interactions of the Puritans with indigenous peoples were based on some of the assumptions perpetuated by the church.

The film continues with the story of how the relationship of the two congregations began. In 1992, a period of rampant youth violence in Boston, clergy and lay leaders mobilized the community to make violence prevention and youth advancement a higher priority. They founded the Ten Point Coalition (www.btpc.org), a plan to redirect the lives of high-risk Black and Latino youth. When a call went out to Greater Boston area churches to help, Reverends Ken Powell and Tom Hunt from Pilgrim Church went into Boston where they met Bethel’s pastors, Ray and Gloria Hammond. Since that time, the relationship between the two churches has deepened with members of both church visiting and participating in the other’s services, going on retreats, and work groups and participating in joint classes.

In the final part of the film, pastors and members of both churches share their experiences with racism and their thoughts about what Christians are called to do today to create a more just world.

"Witness" was shown to a large group of members of both churches at the end of February and followed by a discussion. As a result of those discussions, 18 people formed a joint task force to share what they learned from the film with others in their community and with other churches.
 

Rev. James Ross, Minister of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Southern New England Conference, UCC, viewed the film and had this to say about the Pilgrim and Bethel churches' partnership.

"Pilgrim Church and Bethel AME Church are doing the difficult work of together asking and responding to the question of what God calls the church to do today to bring forth justice. This is a bold undertaking that requires everyone involved to acknowledge the ways in which the Christian church has been a contributor to the problems of racism and the ways in which congregations and other church bodies have benefitted from slavery and the ongoing oppression of African Americans and other people of color.
 
The two churches focused their conversations on action, recognizing that personal enlightenment that comes from study and conversation should compel us to use our influence, money, and bodies to correct that which is unjust.
 
This partnership offers a powerful example of one way that churches can begin the long-term work toward racial truth-telling, reconciliation, healing, and justice."

The video is available here courtesy of Pilgrim Church's Sacred Arts Ministry:

 


You may reprint this story by including the following line in your article:  Reprinted with permission from Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, Spotlight



How is Your Church Living the Love & Justice of Jesus?

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Drew Page

Drew Page is the Media and Data Manager for the Southern New England Conference, and a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer as a Dean at Silver...

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