From the St. Louis suburb at the epicenter of the protests to mega-churches in cities nationwide, religious leaders aim to figure out how faith can help communities come to terms with the crisis in Missouri.
To say it has been a tough week in Ferguson hardly begins to address the scope of all that has gone down in the country’s heartland these past seven days. The week has brought a teenager’s death, protests, looting, clashes with police, the national spotlight and a nationwide uprising, not to mention deep questions about race and justice in America.
On the first Sunday since the unrest exploded and the morning after Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew, many in the Missouri town will attend worship services at one of the dozens of churches that line its streets, giving religious leaders the challenging task of somehow trying to help their communities make sense of their new reality.
Karen Knodt, the pastor of Immanuel United Church of Christ in central Ferguson, plans to preach about the week’s events when her community gathers this Sunday. She is one of the many pastors worldwide who base their weekly sermons off the lectionary, a schedule for reading Scripture aloud in church. One of the main texts scheduled for this weekend comes from the prophet Isaiah, and is timely given the week’s context: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand, and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’”
Many congregants in her 700-person-strong church have been lifelong residents of Ferguson, Knodt explains, and have watched the town’s demographics change from a predominantly German to African-American community. This week she has been checking on members to gauge their safety and stress, and meeting with other clergy to work together to plan their response. Some church members have been working to help clean up looted businesses, she says, and others have launched a special food drive to address empty food pantries in town.
This Sunday, one of her main challenges is to encourage members not to give in to fear. “The reactions in the congregation range from lock the doors to let’s be on the front lines and offer what we can,” she says. “Spiritual needs are mostly how not to live in fear, but to be present to the tragedy and the frustrations, to have compassion for all our neighbors and courage to face our divisions and find ways to live and unify the community across racial, geographic, and class lines.”
Down the street is St. Stephen’s Episcopal, where Reverend Steve Lawler has been reaching out this week to members of both the white and black communities. No one he has talked with so far knew Michael Brown, the 18-year-old killed last Saturday, but some have known the police officer involved in his death. “The Ferguson people I have talked to are hopeful, saddened, outraged, defensive, engaged, scared, prayerful and deeply committed to getting through this difficult time together,” he wrote in an update letter to friends and family in the Episcopal community.
Source: TIME | @elizabethjdias