Sanctuary Columbus Church


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Taking the next step with Sankofa

This week’s blog is a continuation of the conversation with Gretchen Greenawalt regarding Sankofa. She discusses how Sankofa helped her see Pastor Rich in a new way.  There was just too much to share in one post. Read Part One

What was it like being with Pastor Rich for 4 days?

Haha.  It was fun?!!!  Rich knows how to joke and poke even new friends enough to get them to loosen up.  He also knows how to engage deeply in substantive conversations with thoughtfulness, humility and an eagerness to learn.  I also learned that he will quickly loan his hat to a sister who needs to keep her hair dry when it’s raining in downtown Memphis, he devours Chinese lunch buffet, and he loves his family so much he even facetimed them at one of the memorial sites!

No, but really how did being with your African American pastor impact your experience?

I re-entered Pastor Rich’s story - both his story of growing up and the current story he’s living as an African American man pastoring a multiethnic church – particularly a church devoted to engaging those racial differences through the cross. Pastor Rich grew up in an African American church and worshipped in this context for a while as an adult as well.  Then he responded to his call from God to cross cultures and lead a group from many different ethnicities into one community worshipping Jesus. This put him up against many barriers. As Austin Channing Brown says “many white folks have never been led by an African American person.” The challenges are real as our African American pastor seeks to lead white folks who haven’t sat under the leadership of someone with his racial story.  

On the other hand, sometimes those in churches like he grew up in (predominately African American churches) don’t respond enthusiastically either when he shares the vision of his church. This can feel like he’s “trapped” without much partnership from white or black churches. I want to sit with that and hear from the Lord how to bear some of the burden of leadership on his behalf. I want to encourage our leader with spiritual truths, pray for him and his family with passionate fervor, and partner with him with unfettered energy.  I want to reserve my tendencies to complain, act needy, or expect to be treated a certain way. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. He pays a high price to lead many in Columbus towards this particular call of Jesus. I don’t want myself to get in the way.

Have you been tempted to wonder if our efforts and fight for justice will ever do any good?  Is it even worth the engagement?

We watched a short video that attempted to answer the question of “what difference does it even make… why fight for justice when we’re so far from it?”  When it started, I resonated with the question… “yeah, there’s so much pain in the world, where should I start and how could I even maintain hope in a lifelong fight for something?”

Then video showed the first character, who had been doing the building, the manual labor of working for justice, this character turned from black to red, which was the same color as the person bound behind the bars that the first character had been working to free.  THE SAME COLOR. I got chills. The video wrapped up with this:

“It’s one thing to wonder if someone else’s freedom is worth fighting for but when you begin to identify with that someone else, begin to commune with them, that’s when the question is no longer worth asking.  That’s when it becomes offensive. “What do you mean, is it worth my time?” That doesn’t even deserve an answer. I don’t care how long it takes. I don’t care how many times we fail. I don’t care how little progress we make.  YOU NEVER STOP FIGHTING FOR YOUR OWN.” - Micah Bournes - Is Justice Worth It? (WorldRelief.Org)  Oh, how I have failed to make people of color and their unique struggle in our country ‘my own.’  Lord have mercy.

What is one thing that our country could do to move towards reconciliation?

Our country participated in the slaughter of many African American men and women, for many years, and our country has yet to deal with it.  Germany does not have the death penalty now because on the whole their political leaders could never again fathom the systematic killing of its own people.  They have reckoned with their participation in the Holocaust by erecting many memorials and monuments to the past. In contrast, we are fighting to save confederate monuments (and even erect new ones in FL). The Lynching Museum is a BIG step in beginning to reckon with our murderous past.

What things can we individually and as a church body do to move towards greater understanding?

At the end of the Sankofa trip, we considered next steps.  Driving back on the bus, our gang from Sanctuary wondered if Sankofa could be a tool in helping people continue “to understand race a s a critical component of our Christian discipleship.”  (as stated on the Sankofa website).  4 days away together on this journey has incredible transforming potential, and, we would love to see other SCC members take the trip.  The next trip is March 28-31, 2019 and another one will likely be in September 2019! Get a good neck pillow and invite a friend of a different ethnicity!

There are other ways to grow as well.  Reading books, watching videos, and talking to others are all great options.  Perhaps we could take a one-day bus trip to the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati!  I heard Elder Y’Nesha Schaffer is interested in gathering a coordinating a diversity team to encourage initiatives to help us better live out our multi-ethnic calling.

Thanks so much for reading these two interviews.  I am alway up for talking about Sankofa and racial reconciliation.  Please feel free to reach out if you are interested.

Sincerely, Gretchen

Richard JohnsonComment