speaking the truth in love to the present moment
Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Jacob Snowden, associate pastor for education, Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, Severna Park, Maryland. Snowden previously was director of Christian education at First Central Presbyterian Church in Abilene and served as president of the Abilene Interfaith Council.
By JACOB SNOWDEN
Just days ago, I celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, when the Spirit came upon people with the sound of a violent wind and like tongues of fire. People gathered from every nation could understand one another. Sunday, fire and violent wind burned St. John’s Church. This Pentecost, flames and protests erupted around the world that might help me to understand the burning sorrow people feel in the light of a long, complicated, and too often unjust relationship between police, vigilantes, and people of color. For Woods Memorial Church, the sermon title was “Everyday Prophets,” emphasizing the divine ability to prophesy–speaking the truth in love to the present moment. That night saw masses of unnamed people taking to the streets to speak to what they see in this present moment.
Monday, as people gathered outside the White House and Lafayette Square, police in riot gear and on horseback were deployed to disperse protestors, clearing a way for President Trump to go to St. John’s Church. I have eagerly awaited the chance to return to worship in my church’s sanctuary. I value that special place for prayer; to seek guidance, hope, and wisdom from scripture; to enjoy and share counsel in the fellowship of a beloved community; to confess my sins and to seek forgiveness; to leave, having been transformed by God’s Spirit of mercy, love, and peace.
Yet Woods Memorial has refrained from worship in our sanctuary, even at Easter and Pentecost. We have delayed baptisms and weddings due to the health hazards of the coronavirus. We have said firmly that God is not dependent on the brick and mortar of any sanctuary, and that worshipping together physically comes at too high a cost in this moment of crisis. Donald Trump went to St. John’s, and he did so at a great cost. His trip to a “special place” was preceded by the use of force. He has stated clearly that he wants churches to reopen. Now he’s been.
In the midst of the double pandemic of racialized injustice and the coronavirus, I can’t help but wonder, “what prayers might he have offered on our behalf? what scriptures have given him guidance, what counsel did he find in fellowship, what sins might he have confessed, in what ways has he asked forgiveness, and how has he left that special place, transformed to be a humble servant of the people, seeking to demonstrate love, mercy, and justice? These are reasons for the church. They exist independent of the need for brick and mortar. They exist dependent on a community of faith.
So was his going worth the cost? For anyone who was proud or comforted by his being there, I’m asking questions in good faith and for understanding but not naively. These are difficult days. I do not need pepper pellets or tear gas to make me cry, I do not need a knee on my neck to know that it is hard to catch my breath. My hope is for a church to be a place of grace, love, and reconciliation. I recognize it exists because of Christ’s humility and his suffering at the heavy hand of government. So I want to be vigilant; history has shown a dirty picture of when the church seeks political power or vice versa. For times like these, I see a church called to be as wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Come, Spirit come. Happy Birthday, Church.