Churches throughout the BWC are beginning to reflect upon and take action to learn about and address racism in their congregations’ history and in their communities today. The men at Poolesville UMC are seeking to offer humility, love and healing, to their small community.
By Link Hoewing
Poolesville Memorial United Methodist Church has taken to heart the admonition of Bishop LaTrelle Easterling “to have the difficult conversations about race” in our churches. The men’s group at Memorial, in particular, has spent the last several months in discussions about racism and inequality and what we can do to help address these problems in our community of Poolesville in the heart of Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve.
As we have done so, we have kept in mind the comments of our savior who noted that a widow’s small contribution outweighed all of those from the rich and famous because she gave it from her heart and modestly. We know that we cannot solve all of the nation’s problems, but we are trying to make changes and take initiatives that we hope can offer some healing to our small community through our love and humility.
We first moved to have our church’s founding documents reviewed carefully to ensure that there were no racist clauses or provisions that we understand have sometimes been written into the deeds of some churches. We found no such language in any of our church’s deeds or other related documents.
We next focused on the history of our church and its beginnings in 1816 as the Poolesville Methodist Class in the Potomac Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal church of the Virginia Conference. The issue of slavery divided our nation as well as our Methodist Church with most of the members affiliating with the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1844 which supported slavery in our country. A reminder of that tragic history is a stained-glass window over the entrance to the original Methodist Episcopal Church South dedicated in 1893 in Poolesville. That window survived the fire of 1913 and still remains in the church that was rebuilt on the existing foundation in 1916. It was not until 1939 that the differences in Methodism regarding slavery were resolved with the merging of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church to form the Methodist Church,
In thinking about how to deal with this situation, we decided that it would be most useful to develop a plaque we could post on the outside of the church just below the window. Our idea is both to educate the public about the how slavery affected our church as it did so much of the nation and at the same time express remorse for the role our church once played in the horrendous era of slavery. We are working now on how to word the plaque and how to create a positive public unveiling that we can use to help educate, and demonstrate our love and openness to all as a church in today’s world.
Finally, we decided that as a church made up almost solely of white members that as a group of loving Christian men we needed to try and better understand the personal experiences and perspectives of black men in our community. We reached to a local church largely made up of black members – the Hosanna Worship Center – and recently convened a meeting in which we promised to “listen fiercely” and with deep love in our hearts to what they had to say. We recently held the session and it was both deeply moving and wrenching to hear their stories. We do not know where this relationship will go but we have committed to working with the men of Hosanna to use this initial meeting as a stepping stone to pursue further positive and uplifting actions in our community.