This morning I went to worship in a little old white church building in downtown Redding, CA. The church was named “Light House” a year and a half ago after my friend Reece responded to God’s words to him, “I want to be worshiped in that house again.” I got to be one of the founding members of this place of welcome and light to a neighborhood that is no stranger to pain and struggle. It is named Light House because it is a place we hope will shine the light of Christ and be a welcome place for anyone and everyone from the drunk houseless man to the woman wearing church clothes.
We are very aware that the influence and witness of our little church did not begin with us. It goes back 120 years and counting to a community of African Americans originally from South Carolina who started this AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church in a small budding northern California settlement. This week, our connection to this AME church has taken on greater significance in the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday.
As we gathered for worship, we took time to lament this tragedy and pray for the family members and community members of the victims. We sat with the heaviness of the ugly birth mark of racism over our nation. In 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referred to the ongoing racial tension in the USA as a “birth defect”. She goes on to say, “Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together – Europeans by choice and Africans in chains. That’s not a very pretty reality of our founding… That particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today… What I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn’t love and have faith in them – and that’s our legacy.”
Here in the oldest church building in Redding, CA that is the legacy left by our African American brothers and sisters–a place of enduring faith and worship in the midst of the struggle. Looking around the room at the dozen or so people gathered, I wondered at the apparent absence of these founding members. Our group today was completely white. We discussed ways we might research the church’s history, honor the founders by acknowledging the descendants, and sending a letter of solidarity to Emanuel in Charleston. These ideas are good, and worth our time and pursuit, but I still wonder what to do with the absence of our brothers and sisters of African descent.
As Rice says, we founded this nation together, we founded churches together. Or maybe, as in the case of our church, they founded it and eventually we took up the torch again. Regardless, we must stand together in this time. This is an opportunity for justice. This is an opportunity for true reconciliation. This is an opportunity to examine that birth defect, talk about it, and seek God for the way toward true brotherhood and sisterhood.
May His Kingdom come.