Truth and Reconciliation in Northern Piedmont
October 29, 2019
by Rev. Maria King, Northern Piedmont District Vitality Associate
In 2016, the Northern Piedmont District Vitality Team set a priority for the district to confront white supremacy and racism in order to equip the saints for the Kingdom of God. The context of the Northern Piedmont district is influenced by the sin and fractures of racism which in recent history showed its horror on November 3, 1979. Two white supremacist groups held a rally and killed five people. The aftermath of the massacre created even more opportunities for racism to cover up the televised killing. The city council denied the recommendation of a city-wide Truth and Reconciliation work to restore and bring justice. These events and many more from our history have formed our district for generations.
The Northern Piedmont District, the Beloved Community Center and denominational partners continue the Truth and Reconciliation process in our district. Clergy across the district meet regularly to equip themselves as prophets and priest in the work of discipleship within our history and future. Our purpose and journey together is to live into the Beloved Community proclaimed by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The following narratives are two of the many clergy on the journey toward disciple-making and being a prophetic voice in our district. We are grateful for Rev. Rod Ingram and Rev. Tom Latimer for their story and how we all need to grow into God’s justice.
The Northern Piedmont District is grateful for the leadership of Rev. Nelson Johnson, Joyce Johnson and Wes Morris from the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro for their partnership with our district and their friendship to bring God’s justice into our daily lives.
Rod Ingram, Senior Pastor at Memorial UMC High Point
What was your first impression of Beloved Community Center and the work of Beloved Community? At first, I did not know what to expect in the gatherings of the Beloved Community. However, at the first meeting I attended, I witnessed Nelson, Joyce, and Wes helping pastors of all backgrounds: male and female; black and white; young and old; city church and country church; Methodist and Baptist; etc. come together around the issues of race and racism. It was powerful to see people being vulnerable enough to speak about what they believed coming into the Beloved Community. It was even more powerful to see how things changed when we were able to hear different narratives from the perspective of those who had different life experiences regarding race and racism, and how those experiences have impacted their lives.
What makes our gatherings so important to your life as a pastor? The gatherings have been helpful for me as a pastor because they have made me think about things from many sides regarding race. It has been helpful to give me talking points with my congregants, too. The gatherings have also allowed me to connect with pastors of different races and denominations. The gatherings have also given me a safe place to talk without fear of it being used against me at a later time.
What part of you has experience brokenness during this journey? I experienced brokenness when we had to answer the question of when we first became aware of race. I had to release some feelings I have carried. I had to open myself to the idea that I need healing for what happened 50 years ago, and also because of what is happening now in our society.
What part of you has experience healing during this journey? To begin the healing process, we have to admit there is a problem, and we have to take measures to change our situation. For me, when we did the exercise to name the barriers that are keeping us from getting to the other side, that began my healing. It is a process, I must navigate the stumbling blocks, and turn them into stepping stones. I am learning that to heal, I cannot keep things buried. I have to speak up, and speak out.
How has the work of Beloved Community enhanced your vocation as elder in the UMC? The work of the Beloved Community has helped me as an Elder to see that there is still work to be done around race and around poverty. Mammon or money continues to be one of the driving forces to people divided by race and class. As an Elder, the work of the Beloved Community has shown me how important it is to see things from God's perspective, and to strive to live into that. As an Elder, it is also my duty to try to lead people in that direction as well. When we change, and the people change, then the church and the world will begin to change.
Rod, what advice would you give an African American male for their journey in life? For African American men, the struggles continue. The struggles are real. However, I say "Don't let the struggles make us bitter." Instead, let them make us better. Trust God while we fight the systems designed to oppress us. Know that God is bigger than all of our problems and situations. Through the power of God's might, let us strive to dismantle systems. Let us also strive to bring glory, honor, and praise to God's Holy name. This is a process. We have to strive to stay in the process.
How as male leaders do you engage male dominant systems toward equality and inclusion? We have to be intentional about making room at the table for others. To dismantle systems, the playing field must be leveled regarding equality and inclusion. Men must speak up for equal pay and equal treatment for those who are not a part of the dominant systems. Men must lead the way to enact the change we want to see regarding equality and inclusion.
What growing edges do you still want to engage? Change is not easy, but it is possible. I still need growth in conflict resolution. I need help in leading others to talk to one another, and not talk at one another. This will help in all of the hot button issues that we face today.
Tom Latimer, Senior Pastor of Jamestown UMC
What was your first impression of Beloved Community Center and the work of Beloved Community? I had heard of Nelson Johnson through Greensboro community issues around racial reconciliation and poverty initiatives. Nelson was my introduction to BCC. I also connected right away with Joyce – she was among the very first African-American students at my alma mater, Duke. We figure her time there overlapped with my oldest sister Sue in the 1960s.
What makes our gatherings so important to your life as a pastor? Having grown up in NC as a child of white privilege and now serving predominantly white churches in WNC, I urgently need to spend time hearing and appreciating the faith stories of persons of color. I need to wake up to the broader story and fabric of life in my community, region and world, especially to ways I have been complicit in attitudes and systems of white privilege. The Gospel calls us to embrace reconciliation, redemption and resurrection both personally and corporately.
What part of you has experience brokenness during this journey? Coming to fuller understandings of my blind spots and ignorance … bursting the bubble I have lived in (and still do!)
What part of you has experience healing during this journey? Same as above – to honor the experience and reality of others when it is different from mine. Ultimately, this helps us push through to see our common humanity as children of God and our common faith as followers of Jesus.
How has the work of Beloved Community enhanced your vocation as elder in the UMC? As I have been shaken and sifted, so can I better help my congregation stretch and grow spiritually. It also helps me call out the UMC to live out the best of our understandings of the work, grace and love of God made known in Jesus Christ for ALL people.
Tom, what advice would you give a white male for their journey in life? Break free from the bubble of exclusion and authority that is based on the spiritual myopia of maleness and whiteness. Spend time listening to and with those outside that bubble – persons of color, women and LGBTQ persons, especially those called to ordained ministry. Embrace those stories and persons whose experience is different than your own. Talk less, listen more.
How as male leaders do you engage male dominant systems toward equality and inclusion? We must steadily and firmly call out our brothers to make room at the table for those we have tended to ignore, neglect or forget. This is still a work in progress! We can encourage women and LGBTQ persons to find their place, their power, their gifts to share with the Church and in the world as leaders and decision-makers. Sometimes this means shutting up and getting out of the way!
What growing edges do you still want to engage? All of the above!