Juneteenth Message from Rev. Michael Woolf

 June 19, 2020
Posted by Lake Street Church

Dear Friends and Members of Lake Street Church,

I send you this pastoral letter on the occasion of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in America. While slavery might have ended in the 19th century, racism continues to hold America in its grip. In this unprecedented time in our nation’s history we are called to be a community of faith that continues to take ethical and spiritual stands. As you have seen in our worship services, we are committed to addressing America’s original sin of racism and white supremacy directly. We may not always get it right, but as your minister I am committed to learning how we can be a better ally and unlearning ways of doing church that privilege white voices and bodies above others. The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd were not unique in the history of state-sponsored violence against the black community, but they have produced a historical moment in which we are called to account for our actions. What community will we be? How will we contribute to the project of black empowerment? How will we stand and be counted? As your minister, these are the questions that have occupied me for the previous weeks, and I want to share some of the ways that we will strive to be an antiracist congregation:
We are committed to make our worship experiences speak to both the present moment as well as the long history of racism and white supremacy in this country. This will also include an analysis of local, Evanston history and the roles this congregation has and has not played in the fashioning of Evanston’s current inequalities. For a good example of the sort of spiritual experiences that we will strive to create, please see the email “Solemn Strikes: Resources for Remembering George Floyd.”
We will strive to build capacity within our congregation for antiracist analysis and action through speakers, programs, and discussions. For example, beginning Monday, June 29 at 7 PM, Sydney Reed and Jillian Westerfield will facilitate a four-week Zoom discussion of the book How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. By the end of our journey with this book, we should all have some personal action steps to take in dismantling racism and white supremacy. Please email Jillian at jwesterfield@lakestreet.org to register. Note: this book is currently very popular and it may take longer than usual to get a physical copy. It is available for purchase electronically as an ebook or audiobook, but if you prefer a traditional format and it has not arrived by the first discussion, please join us anyway. We will make relevant passages available for discussion, so you will be able to contribute even if you are not able to read the book before we begin. In addition, you can build some of your capacity individually by viewing the following films for free: 13th, Jim Crow of the North, Selma, and Just Mercy.
We will be recommitting ourselves to work with our sister church, Second Baptist Church. I convened a meeting with the Second Baptist Church Collaboration Committee in which we discussed ways that we could be proactive and dependable partners with SBC in this time. We sent a letter to Rev. Dr. Nabors, the senior minister of SBC, and the congregation there detailing our commitments. Among them was space sharing with SBC so that they can have access to a bigger space for socially distanced worship events if they desire that, a commitment to building relationships through storytelling, physically being present at events, and finding out ways to tell the story of our two congregations in liberative ways for the present context.
We will be a congregation that supports black businesses as well as community empowerment initiatives. You can find a directory of black businesses distributed by the Black Business Consortium of Evanston/North Shore here. LSC will strive to prioritize its spending to support these businesses. Moreover, I would like us to donate and be a part of efforts like Rev. Clarence and Wendy Weaver’s initiatives. More concrete proposals will be forthcoming. Together we have real economic power that can be put to good use. You can donate to the Weavers’ project here.
I pledge to use the church’s considerable privilege to bring pressure in local politics to enact police measures supported by the black community. We will look to black leaders in Evanston and our sister church, SBC, to guide us on what actions would be useful. This involves showing up to rallies, like the one on June 7th, protests, vigils, and the more mundane realities of local government, such as city council and school board meetings.
We will target the money that was reserved for COVID-19 relief and the grant money received from the American Baptist Home Mission Society for relief in the black community of Evanston, taking the guidance of black leaders on how to make the most impact with our resources.
There will probably be more substantial ways that we can practice allyship in this time, and we will be able to amply discuss those as this moves forward. What I want to communicate is that this not a moment of activism on mine or LSC’s part – we are in it for the long haul of figuring out how we can be a voice for change in our country and municipality.
Most of all, as your pastoral leader I am committed to learning and listening. You may not always see LSC or myself at the forefront, but that will be because we will endeavor to lift up black voices and support them in their efforts. You probably, like me, will act imperfectly in this time, but it is my firm belief that we must risk imperfect actions, because in acting imperfectly there always exists the divine gift of reflection and correction. It is my sincere hope that “Black Lives Matter” has ceased to be a slogan and rallying cry and has instead become an integral part of your spirituality, a holy utterance about the fact that our nation cannot remain captivated to the sin of racism. Spirituality, if it is to be useful, must be liberative. We have our role to play in that, and we will continue to acting and discerning that role more clearly. That is what we are called to do, and it is the holy work I feel called to in this moment as your minister.
As always, you can feel free to contact me with concerns, ideas, and reflections at minister@lakestreet.org.
Blessings and Peace,
Rev. Michael Woolf
Senior Minister