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Coming together to seek social justice

Coming together to seek social justice

Inclusivity Missions and Outreach Social Justice

Rev. Drew Weseman

On the evening of Pentecost, the steps of Memorial United Methodist Church in Fernandina Beach filled with people from the congregation and community. Because of COVID-19, they wore face masks and held candles for a prayer vigil to remember the life of George Floyd and lament racial injustice.

Two days earlier, Rev. Dr. Mark Charles, Senior Pastor at Memorial UMC, and Pastor Granardo Felix, Pastor at Trinity UMC, along with Rev. Anthony Daniel, senior pastor of Macedonia AME church, began a conversation about how to provide a space of lament and prayer for the community. 

"In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis this week, we wanted to provide a public space for people in our community to express their grief and stand in solidarity with those who are hurting most, particularly our brothers and sisters in the African American community."  Rev. Charles said.

The event also attended by the city's mayor and police chief each, of whom expressed their appreciation for the leadership of these churches.

Pastors who led the vigil (L to R): Rev. Stantley Palmer, Rev. Dr. Mark Charles, Rev. Alyce Parmer, Rev. Anthony Daniel, Rev. Carrie Yoder, Rev. Drew Weseman, Pastor Granardo Felix. -- photos by Carrie McCannell-Scruggs

Trinity and Memorial, located only two city blocks apart, have a shared history. The two congregations, both of which will turn 200 years old in 2022, split in the middle of the 19th century at a time when many other Methodist congregations were dividing over racial lines.

While the two churches have a history of working together in the community, they recently have joined in more intentional conversations about race.

"Sadly, the nature of racism is to devalue another human being. The recent events involving the murders of many unarmed black men in America only solidifies this fact," Pastor Felix said.

"This should be troubling to all regardless of race. Standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of different ethnicities in our community is the first step toward a peaceful solution."

After the death of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, GA, just one hour north of Fernandina Beach, the three pastors recorded a conversation on the experience of African-Americans. The video of the conversation was used in worship at Memorial and posted online as a resource for the congregation.

On the same night, people met in Fernandina Beach, around 200 gathered in Front Street Park in Melbourne, where First United Methodist Church brought with a diverse group of faith leaders, including those from the local mosque.
Rev. Craig Hammond, the senior pastor of First Church, helped to organize the event.

Feeling compelled to do something in response to the recent events, Hammond reached out to his friend, Rev. Lorenzo Laws, senior pastor of Greater Allen Chapel AME Church, days earlier and suggested that they do something together. As protests began to occur around the county, Laws suggested they move up their plans.

The two congregations put together the vigil, including Scripture readings, prayers, singing, and speeches in just 24 hours.

"We didn't want to take over. We tried to be inclusive." Hammond said. "I have found that when you move where God is calling you to go, and not worry about the intricacies, things come together."

First Church and the Greater Allen Chapel began their relationship six years ago after the shooting at Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston.

Since that time, the two congregations have participated in many activities together, including marches, conversations, and advocacy around issues of racial inequality and reconciliation in the Melbourne community. Rev. Hammond noticed the impact this work has had on his primarily white congregation.

"It has been a stretch, in a good way, for many of them who have shown up and participated," he said.

"They have shared that their lives have been enriched by hearing those stories."
In both communities, there are plans to continue the relationships and work of reconciliation after the vigils. 

"The vigil, alone, will not end the pain being felt and will not solve the issues of inequality in our country." Rev. Charles said. "They provide us an opportunity to gather as people of faith and a foundation to continue building bridges of reconciliation in our community."

Drew Weseman is the Associate Pastor at Memorial UMC in Fernandina Beach

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