Before May 25, 2020, 8 minutes and 46 seconds was an innocuous span of time. That changed tragically on the day George Floyd died after being held down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds by a police officer who ignored his repeated cries of “I can’t breathe.“ On June 9, as a culminating event for its five-day prayer vigil to stop racism, Princeton UMC invited the public to participate in a service of prayer and personal witness against systemic racism.
Held on the front lawn of the church, the service began with a Time of Silence and Prayer accompanied by the somber music of bells and ending with a reading of the names of Black men, women, and children victimized by police. Here is a link to the program.
Pastor Jenny Smith Walz then invited those gathered to “put words to the pain and struggle that has occurred for so long” by sharing their thoughts and experiences with racism. Many of those who shared think of themselves as caring, as sensitive to the struggles of minorities, but as one volunteer said, “after talking to people of color, I realize racism goes deeper than I ever imagined.” Another, who grew up in the North during segregation, recalled visiting friends in the South when she was a young woman. Getting off the bus she saw on the water fountain the sign Whites Only. “I never talked about what I saw with my friends during that visit, but I returned home realizing how my Black friends must have felt,” she said.
Evangeline Burgers warned against complacency, saying “You can get comfortable reading books [about racism] and going to rallies; you can start to think ‘I am doing something.’ I pray that I don’t let a day go by that I forget my white privilege.” Princeton UMC’s director of children’s ministry closed with a fervent prayer” “Don’t let the fires in our hearts tonight be extinguished.”
Pastor Ginny Cetuk closed the sharing witness part of the service by acknowledging that racism is tolerated in society and our institutions – even the church. “These have been a challenging and frightening few weeks, and I get so very discouraged. But I also realize that I am not alone, that together, we can make significant change.”
As the service moved toward its conclusion, Pastor Jenny challenged those there and those watching virtually to continue to explore and study our own part in contributing to racism in our communities and to pray for guidance observing that “prayer can feel like a wih we put up to Heaven, but prayer creates space in us for God to come in, for the Holy Spirit to show what we need to understand about ourselves.” As she spoke, she picked up a glass jar that had been filled with beans, a Witness Jar. “Thirty-seven million Black people live in the United States. Take a jar, a cup, any container and gather these 37 million represented by beans, buttons, coins; say their names as you pray and find a way to keep them in front of us,” she asked.
Prayer and work to end racism can continue. To access resources – and to contribute resources you have found, go to this link on PrincetonUMC.org.)