‘These books have work to do’: Download Banned Books Blessing for Racial Justice Sunday

In recent years, there has been an unprecedented number of attempts to ban books, and local churches have an opportunity to bring these stories to the forefront.

The United Church of Christ’s Join the Movement toward Racial Justice and Love is Louder campaign are offering an invitation for churches to collect and bless books that have been banned with a “Banned Books Blessing” worship resource available for download through Join the Movement’s website.

Created specifically for Racial Justice Sunday on Feb. 11, Join the Movement curator Sharon Fennema notes that the blessing can be used at any time or for additional timely occasions like Black History month, Pride or when students are returning to school.

‘Telling truth and giving access’

Fennema noted that the books most targeted for bans tend to be about racism, sexuality, gender and history, adding that a commitment to racial justice literacy includes broadening people’s access to those kinds of books.

“The most predominate books being banned overlap between telling truth about racial injustice and telling truth and giving access to the rich expansiveness of sexuality and gender,” said Rachael Ward, UCC team lead and minister for Gender and Sexuality Justice Ministries. “So we are supporting one another in not only telling people about why this is problematic and unjust, but also offering a list of those books, where to get them, ways to engage them and liturgy that calls in and reminds people that our faith in action touches everything — material and not material. To be good stewards of faith, to be good siblings in Christ together, means to purchase books that are banned and read them to one another so we can keep learning and growing.”

“The truth of these stories is what folks are trying to suppress because if we paid attention to them, it could be revolutionary and bring a collective liberation to the world that we’ve not seen,” Fennema said.

The Banned Books Blessing from Join the Movement and Love is Louder is available on Join the Movement’s website.

‘Churches can be a hub’

The Banned Books Blessing resource includes ideas for creating a banned books shelf in church libraries and inviting congregants to bring books for a blessing that they can keep, exchange or donate to a place that would expand their use.

The resource includes a “message for all ages” or children’s sermon, based around the book Neither by Airlie Anderson that has been banned in several places. Anderson was a recent guest on a Jan. 3 episode of the UCC’s “OWL Taking Flight” webinar series.

The Banned Book Blessing guide also offers sermon seeds, a litany for blessing the books and song recommendations

“Churches can be a hub for the books being banned,” said the Rev. Velda Love, UCC racial justice minister and Join the Movement leader. “All of these authors have taken the time to tell their story, and why can’t we embrace all people? That’s biblical — that God loves the world and those who are part of the journey should be able to express their identities.”

There are also suggestions for steps to help churches continue supporting banned books beyond Sunday worship.

“We want this to be an affirmation of belonging, caring, opening space for the questions, and also there should be no restriction on who should read what,” Love said. “We’re hoping people pay attention to the bills coming forth in their communities or state about banning books and that they will stand in solidarity to block those bills.”

Author Airlie Anderson, whose own books have been targeted by bans, joined the UCC’s “OWL Taking Flight” webinar on Jan. 3.

‘Bless these books to be a blessing’

The Banned Books Blessing offers words and suggestions for churches to name the value of books that have potential to expand and enliven the image of God.

“Where uncomfortable realities and challenging histories are feared, avoided, and silenced, bless these books to be a blessing. … For those who cannot find their divine image reflected anywhere else, bless these books to be a blessing,” the blessing reads.

“A blessing is something we do in community to say what we’re blessing has a particular role or calling to live out,” Fennema said. “I think these books have work to do in the world, and so a blessing to say these books have work in our communities feels powerful.”

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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