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Remembering Black History Month

February 29, 2016



In recent years, in my small Mennonite congregation, we have made it a priority each February to celebrate Black History Month when we gather for worship. This celebration has taken various forms, through: singing African American spirituals (and learning context to the songs), sermons, intentional moments to highlight persons and events in black history, a testimony from a church member, or children’s stories (1). It is important for us to do this as a worshiping community whose membership is mostly white. The practice of celebrating Black History Month helps us to learn history we were not taught, to view the world from the vantage point of those who have been oppressed (and perhaps start learning how to incorporate that perspective into how we do theology), and to grow as neighbors and followers of Jesus. And it is also a small way to demonstrate that #blacklivesmatter, even if the forces of a white dominant society constantly seek to declare otherwise.

There were a number of voices which helped shape our worship time this past month, in which we also were exploring the life and ministry of Jesus during the season of Lent. Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and an activist, who helped us explore the kind of faith that Jesus (also an educator and activist) was developing in his disciples.

Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.

-Mary McLeod Bethune

With the help of Dr. Vincent Harding we explored the history of a familiar, and often misunderstood, song, “Kumbaya.” Far from being a passive and naive musical exercise, the song is about a deep spiritual truth that can inspire action. It’s a sincere plea for the Lord to “come by here.”

Whenever somebody jokes about “Kumbaya,” my mind goes back to the Mississippi summer experience where the movement folks in Mississippi were inviting co-workers to come from all over the country, especially student types to come and help in the process of voter registration and freedom school teaching and taking great risks on behalf of that state and of this nation. … In group after group, people were singing: “Kumbaya. Come by here my Lord. Somebody’s missing Lord. Come by here.”

-Dr. Vincent Harding (2)

Sheyann Webb and Drew Hart helped us explore the defiant and subversive ministry of Jesus as he marched toward Jerusalem in the pages of Luke’s gospel.

Jesus was defiant and determined to continue manifesting his subversive kingdom right within and under the jurisdiction of the powers until he clashed with the establishment in Jerusalem… He would not be turned around. A similar sentiment was expressed in the 1960’s when the people sang that they wouldn’t let anyone ‘turn us around.’ Jesus was on a mission. As his disciples living in a racialized society, we must reenvision what types of prophetic words need to be spoken in our day to unveil the hidden evil forces of oppression and hierarchy, which have been permissible in our society for too long.

-Drew Hart (3)

At this point, please stop reading this post and go order a copy of Drew’s fantastic new book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism.

As we reflected on a Luke 13:31-35 we watched a clip from the film about Ms. Webb’s life, Selma, Lord, Selma, to help us imagine modern day expressions of this insistent, prophetic, and subversive way of Jesus.

On a personal level, there are two TED talks which have helped me grow and be challenged toward action. The first features Mellody Hobson and is titled, “Color Blind or Color Brave?”

The second video features Vernā Myers speaking about overcoming our biases and learning to walk toward our discomfort.

These talks invite us to pursue greater awareness-of self, and of the dominant racial frames that exist in society. Both messages are well worth one’s time and are a good invitation toward uncomfortable yet healthy action.(4) One of my responses is to commit to listen deeply and see how these messages can take root in my life.

How did you remember Black History Month this year? What are your favorite practices for celebrating in a congregational context?

(1) This book works well for a children’s story in a congregational setting: The Story of Rosa Parks (Candy Cane Press, 2007),

(2) “You’ll Never Hear Kumbaya the Same Way Again”,

(3) Drew G. I. Hart, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, (Herald Press, 2016) 66.

(4) Both of these TED talks are part of a Black History Month playlist, which can be found here:

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