Where Two or Three are Gathered in My Name
On September 10th, Bishop Richard Howell Jr., of Shiloh Temple International Ministries and Pastor Matthew St. John of New Hope Church hosted ‘Harmony: An Evening of Restorative Worship’ at Shiloh. The intent in gathering was both to highlight the previous 2017 Sankofa Journey in February and the fruit that has since developed. This week, eighteen pastors from the trip gathered with members of the community for an evening of fellowship, unity, and a shared joy in the Lord.
Since the four-day journey, several roads have been paved for relational and unifying experiences by our group of 30 Twin Cities pastors who journeyed together to Civil Rights sites in the south. The group’s goal in setting out was to learn, grieve, understand, and build bridges with one another. Click here for a summary and video of the journey. In turn, various congregations, churches and denominational leaders in the Twin Cities are learning about systemic racism and unity in the body of Christ. The response has been not only encouraging for all involved, but convicting and powerful as well.
God is on the move as we recognize harmony in the form of pulpit sharing, joint-congregational worship services, and multiple forums and discussion groups aimed at challenging and crossing denominational and ethnic lines.
That it Might Yield Branches and Bear Fruit
Pastor Jon Sommerville, Senior Pastor at City Church Minneapolis shared that after Sankofa, his church hopes for more interaction between communities. “What I know is that since that session, the conversation here has begun. There will be more to come” he comments. “Hope comes when people of God are willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work of building bridges.”
Upon returning from the trip, Dr. Russell Pointer Sr., Senior Minister at Minneapolis Central Church of Christ noted he wants action “NOW, and [is] tired of waiting.” He adds “as a result, we are having two functions later in the year that will allow us to worship together with other congregations in our faith.” Pastor Carmen Means, at the Movement Church recently shared a sermon at Crossroads Covenant, to Pastor John Jacobi’s congregation. Jacobi remarked: “Pastor Carmen’s presence brought Crosstown a vision of our commonality as ambassadors of Jesus’ Kingdom.” He added that in the last six months the Sankofa group has held multiple joyful reunions. “The amazing reality is that none of this would have happened if I had not taken the opportunity to participate in our Sankofa journey!
In the midst of our national issues with race, I find great strength and hope…“In the midst of our national issues with race, I find great strength and hope in what the Lord Jesus is doing through our group!”
An Evening of Restorative Worship
At Sunday’s Harmony worship event, Reverend Brian Herron, of Zion Baptist Church opened the service with scripture: “In this new life, once nationality or race or education or social position is unimportant, such things mean nothing, whether a person has Christ is what matters and he is equally available to all…be gentle and ready to forgive…remember the Lord forgave you…most of all let
love guide your life, for when the whole church shall stay together in perfect harmony let the peace of heart that comes from Christ be always present in your heart and lives for this is your responsibility and privilege as members of His body.” Colossians 3:11 – 14
Terrance Rollerson, from Urban Refuge Church reflected on the journey itself: “God calls us to love one another. [Love] is so profoundly different that it brings change here on earth, and so I think each and every one of us last year began to understand…began to think about things in a little bit different way.” The pastors learned “what it means to be in a relationship with one another with a full understanding of history in a way that propels us to move forward in a way different from our past…I am at my best when I embrace you who is different than me, and challenge and invite you to embrace me who is different than you. That is what this gathering of restorative worship is about. That is definitely what this Sankofa Journey to Harmony is about, and we are hoping and praying that we will do another trip. We want our future to be so much different than our past.”
I am at my best when I embrace you who is different from me, and challenge and invite you to embrace me who is different than you.
New Hope Church’s Pastor Matthew St. John shared the story of pagan king Ashur Dan III and why Pastor Matthew considers the king’s striking declaration of repentance heroic. In the context of those “marginalized, disenfranchised, and forgotten in the mighty city of Nineveh”, protests arose, pressures continued to mount, and soon a revolt was born. “The sense of injustice, frustration, insecurity and pain grew. The city found itself in turmoil.” The Lord sends Jonah to convey the message of His impending judgment. Once word of the revolts and of Jonah’s message reached the Assyrian king, he and his courts lamented before the Lord saying: “Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3: 6-9 NIV
Let them give up their evil ways and their violence (‘ḥᾱmᾱs’)—“the result of grievous injustice.” Pastor St. John noted in verse eight, that the word ‘violence’, originally the Hebrew word ‘ḥᾱmᾱs’—means “a violence that is the result of grievous injustice, a very focused word that gives attention to when people in power oppress those who are marginalized.”
King Ashur recognized that he had created much pain in the population, humbled himself, publicly declared their sin, and called his people to reform. Similarly, we are called to recognize a need within our own culture to come before God and be an ally to those who are hurting.
Bishop Howell, of Shiloh Temple International Ministries is determined to rebuild the walls of the church in the Twin Cities: “When we came back from the Sankofa trip, we came back determined that we are not going to let hate separate us…God didn’t call us to be hateful! … It is not about what is politically correct; it is about what is right in the Word of God.”
“It is not about what is politically correct; it is about what is right in the Word of God.”
Pulpit Call to Action
Pastor Brian Herron, of Zion Baptist Church, appealed to the audience: “Dream with me for a minute, what would it look like if the church really became the church? What would the world look like if the body of Christ really began to die, so that Christ could live?” He commented on the love that brings folks together, regardless of race, and reminded us “This love is not a natural love. This kind of love only comes from God.”
“What would the world look like if the body of Christ really began to die, so that Christ could live?”
Though he admits it will not come easily, he wants his church and others to work toward building the kingdom of God and believes Minneapolis has a unique opportunity to set an example. He reiterated that those who love Christ love everything He loves, and that it is not he who lives anymore, but Christ in him. He shared from the trip: “I saw my brothers’ hearts break. I saw them cry. We cried together, we talked together, we were angry together. Only God. Only God.” President of Transform Minnesota, Carl Nelson, closed the service in prayer and remarked: “The world is hurting and the world is broken; it can be discouraging, but when I look at the body of Christ, I have hope. It doesn’t matter what the world is because we have you Jesus.”
“We cried together, we talked together, we were angry together. Only God.”As the Sankofa group moves forward, there is a heightened awareness that “God is still on the throne” and an urgent sense that “with God there is always more!” (Pastor Herron). New ground has been broken, but there is more to overturn. As two participants shared after the service: “Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can.”