Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to meet with many of you as we talk about the Front Porch and Lawrence Park Community Church. I have heard many of your stories, learned about your kids and grandkids, rejoiced in life events and sat with deep questions.
And one question has popped up with regularity, one that encompasses much of the reason we are here.
“So tell me”, at least a handful of you have said. “Why are you here in the church? Do you think you need this to do good things?”
This is part of the larger question that many do have when they come here. Why do we bother with church? Why do we bother with Christianity? How is it possible to take something that has such a garbage track record and try to make something meaningful out of it?
Christianity has been at the centre of, and enabled, genuine horrors in the world. Whether it is being used as a means of justification for horrors like slavery, or for apathy like ignoring civil rights abuses, there are Christians who will see the gospel, and decide to use it to give them an advantage and others a disadvantage.
Why would anyone want to be involved with that? You don’t need to be Christian to be a good person after all. Billions decide to be good people with either other faiths, or no faith, or just liking what Jesus taught without the whole “God” concept behind it. And yet, the presence of God, working through the Holy Spirit, and the power of Christ’s resurrection is so important to be on a fundamental level that it is why I am here.
As a Christian, I believe in a few things. One of them is that the essence of love, the bit of Spirit and God’s Image, resides in all of us. In the marrow of our bones, sewn into our hearts and consciousness, it connects us with the greater Divine as we navigate our lives together. It is as fixed to us as our DNA. Whether you are spiritual but not religious, or of another religion, or no religion, that essence of humanity is still connecting us all on a level beyond the psychological and cultural. For me, it is just that Christianity is the one that speaks to me the most compared to Buddhist or Hindu teachings.
This universal essence of creation and connection is how we see Black enslaved persons come out of the US, with a religion they didn’t ask for, and say that they will shine regardless. They forge a faith that treats Jesus’ redemptive love, a love so strong it could defeat death itself, as proof that every oppressed person will be free. Black churches have been at the forefront of civil rights movements across the world, especially in North America.Here are some of the churches that came out of these traditions, and if you are interested in more I learned about them from Ms. Natasha Henry, President of the Ontario Black History Society, who held a workshop with the Black Anglicans of Canada You can find the lecture on YouTube.
Sandwich Baptist Church in Windsor, was one of the last stops for people escaping slavery on the Underground Railroad. Harriet Tubman visited here during her trips to and from the US. They, along with other Black churches in southern Canada and the US Northern states, helped fund and run the Underground Railroad to bring enslaved people into Canada by basically smuggling them in. They did this all under the threat of churches being burnt down and being run out of town, along with the not uncommon racism of the time.
St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto. Home to a large Black population of Black Canadians, formerly enslaved Black Americans, and their descendants, they were immensely important for both the activism around Emancipation and in the celebrations that would take place in years afterward. That August long weekend would have parades, speeches, a sunrise service and church celebrations reminding us all of a God that would free the oppressed, in their time, and in ours. And they do all of this knowing it will be white churches and white leaders who will be given credit.
And for those looking for our UCC connections, there are many Black churches in our denomination, but the most famous would be Union United Church, formerly Union Congregational, established in 1907 by primarily train porters and their families. They became a social hub, community centre, place for the arts and culture to be celebrated, giving us musicians like Oscar Peterson. And as the world turned to South Africa to condemn apartheid practices, Union United was at the forefront of the BDS movement, calling for boycotts on South African goods and businesses until they ended the systemic segregation of Black and white South Africans. Black churches, communities, and people are commemorating Black History month as a time to honour ancestors who fought injustice and to empower the next generation to make the world a better place.
For many Black Christians, they never needed the teaching of Jesus to teach them how to be socially minded. Christ was the strength they relied on to unite together, to march forth in a world that would threaten them with violence, and still does to this day. And they do all that, knowing that the majority of white churches will not acknowledge their work until there is a chance for us as white churches to take on a starring role in the activism. That essence of humanity, that light that shines in everyone, comes from God’s love. And when you tap into that, it is not a burden to carry on the good fight. It is a privilege.
As a predominately white church, in demographic and in culture, in a predominately white neighbourhood, we have a tricky balance that we are called to maintain. We have been asked time and time again to offer voices of support, but not drown out others. To be here in the crowd, but not take the lead. To shine the light, but let it be God’s light we shine, on those who are ready to have their voices heard and to be truly and utterly listened to. To sing in the choir, and harmonize with each other.
Stephen’s sermon last week on humility and the Beatitudes is emphasised when we see the importance of lifting up others for no accolades, no awards, but just because it is the right thing to do. And while I would still fight racism and homophobia and ableism and all the forms of bigotry and hatred, we can’t shine that light without having that light as a source.
For me, Christianity is about having the spiritual and Divine connection between myself and something far bigger than me, and being strengthened by it. The light we shine is not generated by us, but is already shining brightly through God’s love. The continued perseverance for us and others to carry on is too much for my little mortal brain to deal with. I am not Jesus, none of us are.
But I don’t have to carry it alone. You don’t have to carry it alone. Black activists, and Queer activists, and Jewish and Muslim activists, feminist activists, and everyone in God’s creation does not have to do this alone. We commit to making the world a better place, whether we follow the reasoning of Jesus’ teachings or not. But I am able to do what I can do because in the marrow of my bones and the beating of my heart I believe in a God that made each and every one of us in God’s image, in every skin colour, of every body type and ability, and that is enough to keep me going.
There are no small actors here, no roles too small count. No light too small to shine. No salt too unimportant for us to ignore. It is all big. It is all beautiful. And when we let others shine, and be there as support, all those voices sing in harmony.