A Word from Lancaster

Thursday, August 17th, 2017 11:49 am

July 2016

Beloved MFSA Family,

Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. was my neighbor in White Plains, NY on November 19, 2011. Mr. Chamberlain was a 68 year old African American Marine Corps Veteran. He was in his own home. He accidentally triggered his medical alert button given to him by his family for his protection. The police responded to the alarm presumably to check on his safety. Mr. Chamberlain assured the officers he was fine and that setting off his alarm was an accident. They would not accept his word and refused to leave. After some time the officers broke through his door, called out to him using a racial slur and shot him dead. In his own home. On that November night while my husband and I slept a few blocks away, the very officers sworn to protect and serve me, robbed my neighbor of a life well loved. It was my neighborhood, my neighbor and my police. 

Thursday night, I joined more than a thousand of my neighbors, colleagues and friends for a march and then vigil at my home church, Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, PA. Many were delegates to the African Methodist Episcopal Church General Conference meeting across the street from our church. It was standing room only. We called as an interfaith multi-ethnic community for the end to racist police violence. One of the speakers, an AME bishop declared: “we talk about terrorism in Istanbul, Turkey, Belgium and Paris, France but, what the media fails to report is we’ve been dealing with terrorism for years in Ferguson, Baton Rouge and Minnesota.” We sang, we prayed, we preached, we wept, we were angry, we refused to be silenced.

Philadelphia is my home now and the home of Old St. George’s UMC and Mother Bethel AMEC. Old St. George’s is the congregation where Rev. Richard Allen and several black members were denied participation during a prayer service more than 200 years ago. Philadelphia is the city that birthed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  It’s the birthplace of Methodist racism. Today Arch Street UMC organizes with Mother Bethel AME in an interfaith community organizing network called POWER. We walk side by side and struggle together for change. 

This week United Methodists in the United States will gather in jurisdictions to elect our episcopal leaders. Jurisdictions were formed in 1939 as a way to establish a separate structure for African American churches and church leaders and in doing so created the Central Jurisdiction. The Central Jurisdiction was eliminated in the 1968 merger forming the United Methodist Church but, it didn’t wipe out the racism woven into the very fabric of our denominational structure.

Audre Lorde once said: “ The master’s tools will never dismantle the master's house.” We need a new narrative and a new structure.  More importantly we need a new set of tools for us to build new houses.  The racism within our houses of worship, our houses of government and even the houses our movements reside within cannot be dismantled with the same tools we’ve used for centuries. It’s time to have a new conversation. A conversation that looks within our own movement first at the ways we continue to perpetuate a racist system. Only then will we be able to build a new house, one where the beloved community can call home. 

Will you join me?

Deaconess Darlene DiDomineck
Interim Executive Director

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