Pastoring while Black

Key points:

 • Along with driving while Black and walking while Black, clergy of color also face hostility for pastoring while Black.

 • Letter writers protesting a community outreach program have directed anger and racism at the Rev. Nathan Adams, the Black pastor of Park Hill United Methodist Church.

 • A lawsuit against the program names the three sponsoring organizations, but it singles out only one individual: Rev. Adams.

Bishop Karen Oliveto. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
Bishop Karen Oliveto.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.


UM News publishes various commentaries about issues in the denomination. The opinion pieces reflect a variety of viewpoints and are the opinions of the writers, not the UM News staff.

It was in college that my understanding of racism moved from a sociological concept to a lived reality.

In college, one of my professors was Black. One. Every day he came to class dressed in a three-piece suit. He told us about how nearly every time he drove through the town to get to work, he was pulled over by police. This wasn’t Birmingham in the ’50s; it was New Jersey in the ’70s. And whether with a colleague or his children, he would suffer the indignity of the police asking him to step out of the car. His crime? Guilty while driving Black.

Studies have shown that Black people are stopped by police officers at a higher rate than white counterparts. In 2016, Philando Castile was stopped by a police officer who said that Castile and his companion “just look[ed] like people who were involved in a robbery.” The stop turned deadly when the police officer opened fire.

A report shows that Castile was stopped 52 times between 2002 and 2016 for minor traffic violations. Most were ultimately dismissed, yet still Castile paid fines and fees of $6,588.

Driving while Black is expensive, with the ultimate price being loss of life.

We have also seen the crime of walking while Black. Studies have shown that motorists are less likely to stop for a Black person in a crosswalk. Police officers are more likely to ticket a Black person for jaywalking. Whether in a crosswalk or out of it, walking while Black has been shown to be dangerous to the walker. Read the story of Elijah McClain right here in Denver.

As bishop of the Mountain Sky Conference of The United Methodist Church, providing episcopal leadership for United Methodist churches in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and part of Idaho, I have discovered that there is also such a thing as pastoring while Black. 

We Are God's Family: Personal Encounters with Racism

We Are One Family: Personal Encounters with Racism is a series of commentaries of personal experience with racism and the intersection of faith and justice.  
UM News is inviting people to share their own personal stories about encounters with racism, as well as hopes and ideas for combating it. 

The most recent example is in regard to a ministry the congregation at Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver has been called to: providing care and shelter for the homeless.   The congregation is in partnership with Temple Micah, working with Colorado Village Collaborative to provide safe shelter for those unhoused in the Park Hill United Methodist Church parking lot.

My office has received many emails from neighbors complaining of the church’s decision. However, the content of the letters didn’t target the congregational members who made the decision. Every letter derided the pastor, the Rev. Nathan Adams. 

At first, I chalked it up to not understanding how churches work. Ministry decisions — at least in The United Methodist Church — are jointly held by congregational leaders and the pastor. It is the result of communal prayer and discernment, of being close enough to people — especially those on the margins — to learn their needs and then use the resources we have to respond as the Body of Christ.

However, as letter after letter poured in, it became clear that the anger expressed by the writers wasn’t toward the congregation, but toward Rev. Adams, who was being singled out for pastoring while Black.

Things were said about his character by people who never met him. Overt hostility was expressed, and many stated their suspicions about his motives. The racism that oozed from these letters was nothing less than chilling.

Pastoring while Black, like driving and walking, has its costs. In Rev. Adams’ case, it has had legal risks. In a suit filed by Park Hill residents, three entities were named: the city of Denver, the Colorado Village Collaborative and Park Hill United Methodist Church. However, the suit included but one individual. The white executive director of the Colorado Village Collaborative was not named. The rabbi at Temple Micah was not named. Nor was any official from the city of Denver included in the suit.

Only one person: The Rev. Nathan Adams. A Black man.

This is what pastoring while Black looks like.

Oliveto leads the Mountain Sky Conference of The United Methodist Church.

News contact: Tim Tanton or Joey Butler at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday (weekly) Digests.



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