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Christ Church joins protestors with prayer vigil

Christ Church joins protestors with prayer vigil

Inclusivity Missions and Outreach


Cynthia Metzger Phipps

The scenes of protest in South Florida were unavoidable. People of all backgrounds marched last weekend for justice after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

While most were peaceful, some incidents led to rubber bullets in Miami, tear gas in Fort Lauderdale, and overnight curfews from Miami to West Palm Beach.

Christ Church United Methodist, led by Rev. Dr. Brett Opalinski, responded Monday morning by organizing and producing a livestream prayer vigil for Monday evening.

“It was important for us to offer what we could into a difficult situation,” Opalinski said. “We wanted to offer a message that brought the love of God into our context.”

Clergy and lay persons from four churches, plus South East District Superintendent Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems, agreed to speak.

“A prayer vigil allows us to focus on a key component of our faith – prayer to God in times of strife and uncertainty,” Weems said. “We too often rely on our own words, thoughts and desires rather than turning to God for guidance.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, a prayer vigil like this would have brought people together in one place. That’s not an option now, and the online presentation offered advantages.

Brett Opalinksi
Pastor Brett Opalinski

“Livestream made it possible for us to do this quickly and for people from all over the country to join in prayer with us,” Opalinski said.

He invited speakers who represented the diversity of the South East District. Weems is not only the District Superintendent but also an advocate for peace and justice. Wyatt Robinson, of First UMC Boca Raton, is a young adult from a church in the northern part of the district.

Rev. Dr. Simon Osunlana of St. John’s UMC in Fort Lauderdale, had worked with Christ Church a few years earlier through Beloved Community, a movement to improve race relations.

Other speakers included Judith Pierre-Okerson, Southeast District lay leader; Josh Beaty, Christ Church associate pastor; Monique McBride, Christ Church pastor to schools and families; and Mirhonda Studevant, Christ Church lay leader.

“The hope was that this would be a prayer vigil that demonstrated we heard the voices and suffering of persons who have long lived with the

Cynthia Weems
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems

pain of racism, that we could name white privilege as a contributing factor and seek repentance and forgiveness,” Opalinski said.

Each speaker shared an experience or reading and a prayer. A period of silence punctuated the prayers.
Studevant chose a passage from Michael Eric Dyson's "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America." She chose the passage to provoke listeners to a collective responsibility and personal accountability.

“I wanted to eliminate any assumption that racial injustice was someone else's problem,” she said. “I wanted listeners to feel unified as children of God and committed to being instruments of God's peace, justice, and equality.”

Facebook viewers expressed gratitude for the contemplative time together at a tumultuous moment.  Kathy Skipper, a Christ Church member, said she looked forward to the time of reflection and Scripture from the moment she saw the announcement on Facebook.

“The service was a literal balm in a virtual world!” she said. “I was so proud of our pastors and the district superintendent for putting this together so quickly.  The combination of thoughtful readings and music was a gift. “

While some might challenge the issues of racism and inequality as political, not “church” issues, Opalinski disagrees.

“To remain silent just because issues have political implications is abdicating our work as Christians, even if it speaks an uncomfortable truth to persons in power and privilege,” he said.

Osunlana, a speaker and pastor at St. John’s UMC, said racism is an issue that must be discussed by the church.  

“The church itself has been a racialized institution for far too long. The silence or sometimes half-spirited condemnation of racism presents a spiritual challenge,” he said. “The fact that opportunities and resources in many denominations, including ours, depend largely on the color of your skin makes the church unbelievable when she talks about how bad racism is.” 

Reading list

Here are some of the books that were read from during Monday’s prayer vigil. All are classics in the civil rights movement.

  • Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America, by Michael Eric Dyson

  • Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Jesus and the Disinherited, by Howard Thurman

 

  ~Cynthia Metzger Phipps is the director of communications at Christ Church in Fort Lauderdale.

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