Ignoring the verdict. Is your congregation guilty?

Read follow-up to this post: Verdict Part 2 – Is social media driving new expectations for congregations?

We have a problem…  It has to do with congregations failing to meet some of their fundamental responsibility as faith communities offering public worship.  Today some of our congregations are guilty of failing to respond to what was a major event in the life of our country.  I know, guilty is a harsh word, but this is important, mission critical.

Not GuiltyUnitarian Universalist friends of mine, clergy and lay people alike, across the country are now talking on Facebook about how some congregations FAILED to address the Trayvon Martin – George Zimmerman verdict.  I know. I was a witness…

Today some congregations worship hardly mentioned the verdict, and failed to make space  for our feelings of anger, despair and hunger for justice.  I was there.  I made an unplanned trip to a local church today.  I was supposed to be working.  I changed my plans. I went to church and spent the majority of the service wondering if the worship leaders would mention it.

Yeah, finally a few words.  Not what I had hoped for. Good sermon, though.

Here’s the deal.  Failing to make space in worship *somehow* in the wake of a major event of this magnitude is a form of  ministry negligence.  In failing to address the issue that brought so many to church today, including newcomers, you caused harm.  You shook some people’s faith.  You made sure someone who came to your church for the first time is never going to return.   That’s not okay.

If you are going to open your doors for worship, you have responsibilities.  This includes creating space for ministering to people through your worship service in the wake of major national/world events.  You have a very real responsibility to check the news.   Seriously.   Yes, yes, I know it was  late, but that doesn’t get you off the hook.  Check in the morning.  Being in touch with the world is part of what you’re signing on to when you get into ministry, especially today given today’s technology and culture.

No, you don’t need to scrap your service as planned (with exceptions like 9/11).  You can change your opening words or revise a prayer.  You could address what happened with brief words at the start of the service with a  moment of silence and then launch into service as planned.  There are many ways to respond. But you must have a process for having worship leaders determine if there is anything that must be acknowledged in worship and for weaving in an appropriate response.

If it is Summer, that’s no excuse.   CLERGY, if you serve a congregation you are responsible for making sure this happens while you’re on Summer vacation.

If you consider yourself a leader in one of our congregations, I hope you’ll make it a practice to check in with worship leaders when you learn of a major event and to offer them support, but also hold them accountable to responding.  Together we need to make sure we are a smart enough faith to not blunder in this way.

There is too much at stake.

PS — Last year, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar offered this service on Trayvon Martin and the New Jim Crow.  Worth watching and sharing.

Rev. Marlin Lavanhar on Trayvon Martin and the New Jim Crow

With permission I share this comment by Rev. Marlin Lavanhar on the national response to his recent sermon on the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the book  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness.  I hope you’ll watch and share both Marlin’s sermon (below) and Alexander’s book.

“The national reaction to this sermon has been huge. Much of the info comes from Michele Alexander’s book: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness”. I think it is the most important book on race in America in a generation. Please read it! ”  — Rev. Marlin Lavanhar

For more information on the book see www.newjimcrow.com.
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