On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri a young black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer. While tragic and heartbreaking, this incident is not unique. This type of violence is echoed in communities across our nation.
What happened in the ensuing days is something that seized the imagination and attention of a country and perhaps a world. In the weeks following Michael Brown’s shooting advocates have rallied to call attention to issues of racial discrimination and the militarization of our police forces. UCC clergy and lay leaders have offered prayers, resources, and their physical presence both to aid in the healing of the community of Ferguson, and in an attempt to address the broader systemic issues that underlie what happened in Missouri.
These are challenging times and difficult issues, but together we are called to do the work of healing the hurt in our midst, addressing the lack of understanding between communities, and taking on the sin of racism in our desire to see the Church live and be as one.
Why "Black Lives Matter"
When a church claims boldly “Black Lives Matter” at this moment, it chooses to show up intentionally against all given societal values of supremacy and superiority or common-sense complacency. By insisting on the intrinsic worth of all human beings, Jesus models for us how God loves justly, and how his disciples can love publicly in a world of inequality. We live out the love of God justly by publicly saying #BlackLivesMatter.” (Read more.)
Prayer & Study Resources
Prayers for Racial Justice
Since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a collective of UCC faith leaders from across the country have gathered on conference calls convened by the Rev. Geoffrey Black. They share about the on-going efforts at local and conference settings to keep people mobilized and engaged in countering institutional racism and sanctioned violence. And they seek to identify all-Church initiatives with course of actions that can make a difference over time. Last year they called UCC churches to recognize Sunday, August 9, 2015, the actual anniversary of Mike Brown’s death, as a time for us to pray together for racial justice. In the course of that process they prepared a variety of prayers for use by congregations. These prayers may be adapted and used on other days and in other settings in which people gather to pray and witness to justice for all who suffer the violence of racial injustice.
To request free"Black Lives Matter"
- Call to Worship - Dorhauer
- Call to Worship - Jefferson
- Children's Sermon Starters - Wood
- Litany on Gun Violence - Byrne
- Pastoral Prayer - Jefferson
- Prayer of Confession - Jefferson
- Prayer of Confession - Fairman
- Prayer of Lament - Fennema
- Charge to Community Action - Fennema
A Pastoral Letter on Racism: A New Awakening
As America honors the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the ideals of equality, service and beloved community that he lived and died for, the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ has released a Pastoral Letter on Racism, with the hope and expectation that it will be read in our 5,100 churches nationwide on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend or to conclude the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Sunday, Jan. 25.
With the recent rash of deaths of African Americans at hands of police, the UCC national leaders hope Martin Luther King weekend will be an opportunity for us to both address those issues through our continuing advocacy and hope for change toward King’s beloved community. Read the letter.
Pastoral Response to Grand Jury Decision
United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black has released this statement in response to the decision of the grand jury.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
In the months that have passed since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown last August, the attention of the nation on Ferguson, Missouri, has sharpened the reality that racism still exists in our country and is as deadly as ever. Our prayers for justice have been fervent but the truth remains that in communities around the country, racial profiling of people of color by law enforcement, and particularly of young African American men, far too often has lethal consequences.
Day after day, protestors have peacefully marched in the streets of Ferguson, demanding that justice be done. People of faith, including UCC clergy and leaders, and young people living in the area, have provided key leadership in this organizing effort. Even so, a state of emergency was declared days before the announcement of the St. Louis grand jury decision on whether or not Officer Darren Wilson would face criminal charges.
Our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith reminds us that God promises to all who trust in God “courage in the struggle for justice and peace.” In the wake of the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Wilson and the implication that Michael Brown’s death was justified, the people of Ferguson, of the St. Louis area, and of the nation at large are left with an open wound and no visible means to begin the healing process. Disappointment, frustration and anger abound. Any and all of these responses are understandable.
However, we are also reminded by our statement of faith that we are engaged in a “struggle for justice and peace.” These two concepts are appropriately joined. To engage in the struggle takes courage and a renewed commitment to advocacy and action, to deepening racial awareness by engaging in sacred conversation, and to truthfully examining – then dismantling - the systems of privilege set in place by racism. It requires building God’s beloved community beyond racial divides. That is where true peace abides.
We in the national setting of the United Church of Christ stand in prayerful solidarity with the people of the St. Louis Association and the Missouri Mid-South Conference. We join you and all others who are advocating for justice and working for peace in Ferguson and the St. Louis area as well as in communities around our nation. We invite the whole United Church of Christ to do likewise.
Much more can and must be said on this topic. To that end, we are preparing a more extensive pastoral letter which will be issued during Advent. In the meantime, let us prayerfully face this moment of lost opportunity, seeking God’s gift of courage to continue the struggle. Therein lies our hope for the transformation of this society to a just society for all.
Peace and blessings,
The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ
UC News Coverage
Commentary: We Are All Affected
December 4, 2014
Lancaster Seminary to explore race and violence in forum on Ferguson
October 15, 2014
Moral march in Ferguson underscores justice for all
October 9, 2014
Support and solidarity with Ferguson
August 21, 2014
Geoffrey Black invited to preach, pray in Ferguson
August 19, 2014
UCC communities, leaders mobilize to support Ferguson
August 18, 2014
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We are facing an escalating humanitarian crisis as a growing number of children flee escalating violence in Central America. So far in FY 2014 alone 57,000 children have sought refuge at our borders. It is from dire circumstances that a child chooses to migrate thousands of miles. As people of faith we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us. The root causes of these changing migration patterns are extreme poverty, violence, and rising homicide rates in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, from which most of the children are arriving.
A Pastoral Letter on Child Refugees from the National Leaders of the United Church of Christ
The National Officers of the United Church of Christ and the Council of Conference Ministers — the leaders of the denomination’s regional conferences — shared a pastoral letter addressing the tens of thousands of young refugees fleeing Central and Latin America and seeking safety in the United States. In a unified voice, UCC leaders declared their support for these children that are leaving their homelands out of fear. This is a unique moment that tests the church’s commitment for justice and peace. Read the full pastoral letter.
Compassion and Prayers for Unaccompanied Migrant Children
Join people of faith in praying and acting to protect these children! The United Church of Christ is urging members and congregations to take a moment during church services to pray for and stand in silent witness with thousands of young refugees fleeing violence and conflict in Central America and the people and communities throughout the country working to help them.
There are several things you and your congregation can do:
Pray -Your church can pray for the protection of the children, who have travelled hundreds of miles to escape the violence in their home countries. We are asking for prayers of support for:
- The children and their families. For the violence and poverty that forces people to leave their homes and loved ones. For the broken hearts of parents seperated from their children. For a better world where all God's children can find safety.
- The UCC-affiliated Bethany Children’s Home in Womelsdorf, Penn., which has so far helped more than 60 unaccompanied minors through its Helping Hands program, and plans to help hundreds more in the coming months.
- Yuma United Church of Christ in Yuma, Ariz., which provides food, clothing, water, diapers and other supplies to women and children left by U.S. Border Patrol in public parking lots to fend for themselves.
- The Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, which is serving as a donation collection center and working to distribute supplies to its local congregations.
- The Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ that is supporting the work of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, which has so far collected and distributed tens of thousands of items to young refugees.
- United Church of the Valley United Church of Christ in Murrieta, Calif., whose members brought a peaceful presence to the city’s angry protests, and continue to advocate for these children by working with their congressional representatives.
Act - Both the Senate and House have introduced emergency funding bills to respond to the unaccompanied children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Calls to your Senators and Representative are urgently needed today. Tell them to REJECT rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and to INCREASE funding for refugee resettlement. Visit tiny.cc/ProtectKids for more info and to take action.
Give - Your financial contribution is multiplied by joining with others to increase the capacity of the UCC to address humanitarian needs and to shape the future. You are helping to provide food, water, safe places, a listening pastoral ear, religious services, and legal assistance. Your gifts are already making their way to the UCC Southwest Conference and Church World Service to provide immediate and sustained releif. We thank you for your generosity.
Make a secure on-line donation noting "Unaccompanied Child Refugees" in the comments section. Gifts may also be made at your local UCC congregation noting support for “Unaccompanied Child Refugees". Gifts should then be sent through your Conference office on to Wider Church Ministries. Donations may also be made out and sent directly to Wider Church Ministries, Financial Services - 6th Floor, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.
More of the UCC Response
- UCC response to crisis of unaccompanied minors from Central America - the UCC Immigration Task Force offers an overview of the crisis and ways for congregations to engage.
- Worth the Risk? Consider the factors behind the surge of unaccompanied children. - July 9, 2014. Derek Duncan, Our Global Ministries Associate for Global Advocacy and Education, reflects on the growing number of unaccompanied children crossing our southern border. He explores why these children are coming to the U.S., what is the faith community is doing to respond, and what comes next.
- UCC coordinated response moves quickly to fund assistance for displaced children
- UCC Congregations respond:
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We are facing an escalating humanitarian crisis with the increase of migrant children crossing the United States/Mexico border at an alarming rate. Doubling every year since 2011, more than 47,000 children have already attempted the journey so far in 2014. The face of the child migrant has inundated the news cycle, with the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services unable to handle the number of children who, by law, are required to be processed to determine the safest option for each child. This often means waiting in the U.S. with a family member or foster parent for an immigration court case.
It is because of dire circumstances that a child chooses to migrate thousands of miles. A report from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees shows that many of these children are fleeing violence, conscription into gangs, and threats to their personal safety, including gender- and sexual- based violence.
As people of faith, we have an ethical obligation to care for the most vulnerable among us. The majority of unaccompanied children are arriving from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, all of which have seen changing migration patterns due to extreme poverty, violence and rising homicide rates. Displacement rates from these countries into neighboring Belize, Mexico and Nicaragua have soared by 435 percent, according to a recent United Nations report. Likewise, deportation numbers of Guatemalans from Arizona have risen 24 percent in 2014.
Common misconceptions are that policies like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or lax border security have caused increased Central American migration. However, the Department of Homeland Security has a record 21,000 border patrol agents. Prosecutions of “illegal entries” have risen 130 percent since 2007, and the Obama Administration is spending $18 billion per year on border security measures. We know that these children are not motivated by U.S. policies – they and their parents are making life-or-death decisions based on increased violence and few options for safety.
Many UCC Congregations across the country are wondering how they can help in this time of crisis. The U.S. government is required to take care of these children until the Department of Health and Human Services determines the best space for them, so there is no need for food or supply donations as in many emergency situations. Instead, we have mapped out several action steps for both advocacy and service opportunities.
Ways to Engage:
- Take action - call your representative today and call for adequate funding for the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
- If you live near an immigrant holding facility, you may want to start a detention visitation ministry. See List of detention centers throughout the country here and research if they are holding unaccompanied children.
- Consider becoming a foster parent to allow the release of the child while they wait for their immigrant court date. Additional resources can be found via the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.
- Spread the right message! Help educate others through resource list and social media opportunities.
- Volunteer with a program that is helping unaccompanied children, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service, Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services, or Kids In Need of Defense.
Region-specific volunteer opportunities:
- ARIZONA: Casa Mariposa seeks volunteers to help women and children dropped off at the Tucson and Phoenix bus stations. Volunteers help contact relatives, provide diapers, food, child care, etc.
- FLORIDA: Catholic Charities’ Msgr. Bryan Walsh Children’s Village in Miami, Florida shelters unaccompanied children and provides K-12 education, counseling, medical and legal services. Volunteers are need Monday-Friday to help with recreational activities and field trips as well as host birthday parties and holiday celebrations.
- TEXAS: Bilingual volunteers are needed to mentor unaccompanied children at St. Michael’s Home for Children in the Galveston-Houston area.
- NEW YORK: Spend time with minors waiting to meet with their case managers at local detention facilities.
- NEW ENGLAND: Lutheran Social Services provides legal assistance to unaccompanied minors in immigration court proceedings.