When the Rev. Sarah Lund woke up on Sunday, July 14, she felt she needed to be among friends and family of Trayvon Martin – the Florida teenager who was shot and killed last year by a neighborhood watch volunteer – as they sought to ease their collective grief. Lund, a regional conference minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ, was compelled to reach out that Sunday after the man charged with Martin's death, George Zimmerman, walked out of a Florida courtroom with a not guilty verdict.
"All I did was go to church, like I always do on Sunday," Lund said, "and when you show up, God is going to engage you and invite you to be involved."
The killing of the unarmed 17-year-old in Sanford, Fla., in February 2012 fueled debate around the country about equality under the law and racial profiling. In the days since the not-guilty verdict was announced, there have been a mix of peaceful responses and angry protests.
On the morning after the jury decided the case, acquitting Zimmerman, Lund made the 45-minute drive to Allen Chapel, the church of Martin's family. The congregation's pastor, the Rev. Valerie Houston, has called for community healing and peace since the shooting, which was one of the reasons Lund was compelled to make the trip.
"I wanted to thank her for her leadership and her church's witness," said Lund.
Houston also invited Lund to the pulpit to preach and read scripture to the African Methodist Episcopal Church congregation. She was virtually the only white face in the crowd. Lund described a sense of momentary nervousness as she wondered what she might say to the congregation when her moment arrived, but as the worship progressed, her nervousness was replaced by a spirit within the church that calmed her.
"The first thing I wanted to share with them was to affirm our mutual concerns for the injustices that have occurred. It would be easy for white people to say, ‘This isn't my problem,' or ‘This isn't a problem at all.'" Lund drew on remarks from Martin Luther King, Jr., and spoke about honoring the distinctiveness between white and black people by "celebrating who each of us are, [and] embracing our differences and strengths."
"One of the youth ministers [at Allen Chapel] said her phone kept ringing [after the verdict was announced], and the youth called and said they're afraid and scared," Lund said.
"I don't think we realize how this is hurting the youth. The way we respond is critical to the health of our youth who are the future of our churches and society… The response should be one of prayer, and of thoughtful and courageous action."
In the year since the shooting, clergy in the Sanford community gathered and discussed the role of faith in response to the shooting though gatherings and joint worships. Lund, who at the time was transitioning from being a local pastor to her role with the Florida Conference, attended the events in the area led by both black and white ministers.
"I've been really raised with this awareness of issues of injustice and how it is part of our calling as people of faith," Lund said.
She was a signatory to the conference's statement on the verdict that asked people of faith to take positive action in their responses to the case, calling the acquittal an "injustice."
"We call for a widespread response to this injustice and to take courageous and bold steps to reform our laws, to hold elected officials accountable, to confront racism and white privilege and to peacefully work for change," the statement reads.
Lund said she heard back right away from some pastors saying they would share the statement, while others claimed it wasn't something that should be talked about in the church. Based on what she has seen, heard, and read during her ministry, Lund thinks there is a "need to be open to having the dialogue and that this is part of our ministry as Christians."