When United Methodists travel by the busload to Washington for the A.C.T. to End Racism Rally on April 4, a bus from the Philadelphia area will be among them.
Both the Eastern Pennsylvania and Peninsula Delaware conference cabinets are making the event a priority, explained Bishop Peggy Johnson, “because we as United Methodists are people of social justice and sometimes that means using your feet to be the embodiment of our passion for equity and inclusion.”
The rally is part of the April 3-5 events organized by the National Council of the Churches and its partners. “As we mark 50 years since the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, we will commit to do our part to eradicate the entrenched racism that grips the United States and paralyzes our ability to see every human being as equal,” the NCC stated.
For Johnson, part of that commitment is showing up. “I want to model for the church how important it is for the people of God to literally stand with people who have been marginalized because of race,” she said.
The rally will kick off a multi-year campaign to end racism in the U.S., according to Jim Winkler, a United Methodist and top executive of the National Council of Churches, which has organized the events with partners that include the Conference of National Black Churches and the Churches Uniting in Christ.
“We hope that it will really generate momentum,” he told United Methodist News Service. “That’s the goal. The rally is not the end but the beginning of this process.”
April 3-5 events
All times EDT.
Tuesday, April 3
1 to 2 p.m. — Briefing by the Board of Church and Society on issues including criminal justice/mass incarceration, economic justice, media, health care, voting, civil and human rights, environmental justice, education and immigration. United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, NE.
2 to 3 p.m. — United Methodist prayer witness on the steps of the United Methodist Building.
6 p.m. — Ecumenical Service of Repentance in the Orthodox Tradition at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 2815 36th St., NW.
8 p.m.: Then and Now: An Ecumenical Gathering to End Racism
Wednesday, April 4
7 to 8 a.m. — Silent Prayer Walk from the MLK Memorial to the National Mall. United Methodists will meet at the MLK Memorial gift shop at 6:50 a.m. and enter the memorial together.
8 to 9 a.m. — Interfaith Service (United Methodist meeting point to be determined)
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Rally on the National Mall, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and call to commitment.
Thursday, April 5
All day — National day of advocacy and action, including visits to Congress.
10 a.m. to noon — Conversation and networking, led by the staffs of the Board of Church and Society and Commission on Religion and Race. United Methodist Building, 100 Maryland Avenue, NE.
For further information about events at the United Methodist Building, contact Neal Christie at email@example.com.
The United Methodist Council of Bishops is helping organize the denominational presence at the rally and other United Methodist-sponsored events planned in Washington. Bishop Bruce Ough, the council’s president, will kick off events on April 3 at a 2 p.m. prayer witness to “Awaken, Confront and Transform” at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.
United Methodist representatives from all five U.S. jurisdictions are part of the NCC planning team. The Baltimore-Washington Conference will host and provide hospitality to many of the visitors, as will the Board of Church and Society, Commission on Religion and Race, Virginia Conference and Bishop Michael Watson, the denomination’s ecumenical officer, and his staff.
The Pan-Methodist connection is an important part of the rally, Winkler noted. Bishop W. Darin Moore of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church has said the denomination would bring 5,000 people to the rally, he added.
“As we look at our society today, it is painfully evident that the soul of our nation needs healing,” said Moore, chair of the NCC’s governing board, in a press release. “We must not only pray, but take concrete action to realize and achieve racial and social justice, and we cannot possibly put an end to racism unless we commit to change at all levels — including within the faith community.”
Some buses headed to Washington will include a mix of Pan-Methodist members. The Northern Illinois Conference has set up a Pan-Methodist bus — available to members of the United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal churches.
Chicago area Bishop Sally Dyck noted that the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination offers an opportunity to reflect on the progress against racism.
“Racism is incompatible with Christian teaching but continues to be taught in our churches, communities, families and throughout our nation,” she pointed out. “I hope that Christian churches will work to eliminate racism wherever it is expressed.”
The idea for the campaign and kick-off rally took root after the NCC hosted a World Council of Churches delegation in April 2016 to explore how churches can help achieve racial justice in the U.S., Winkler said. The WCC later held a hearing about the issue at its Geneva headquarters, moderated by United Methodist Bishop Mary Ann Swenson.
Conversations in Chicago with the WCC delegation raised the fact “that there’s never really been a truth and reconciliation process” in the U.S. as has occurred in places like South Africa, he added.
An NCC task force explored that idea and “quickly came to the conclusion that we need to spend some time in truth-telling before we move to reconciliation,” Winkler said.
A decision was made to launch the process with the April 4 rally, using the 50th anniversary of King’s death to move toward the goal of ending racism in the United States. Last October, Winkler visited the National Park Service and found that both the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial were available on that date. “At that point, I realized that God must be in this,” he said.
Ecumenical organizations and interfaith representatives also will be among those attending the rally. The Rev. Larry Pickens, a United Methodist and ecumenical director for the Lehigh Conference of Churches in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said planning began there when the Lutheran bishop called and asked if the conference would have a bus.
By the day of the rally, he expects to have a full bus that will include Christian and Jewish participants. “Even though it seems daunting, we should always continue the witness against racism,” Pickens said. Starting a campaign with events following Easter is “kind of a resurrecting opportunity for us to think in new ways.”
Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.