12 examples: Holston churches speak, stand, kneel to fight racism

12 examples: Holston churches speak, stand, kneel to fight racism

Participants kneel to remember George Floyd and others who have died at the hands of racism during an Abingdon peace rally. Photo by Natalie Justice

Throughout Holston Conference, United Methodists are speaking up, protesting and taking other actions to battle pervasive racism brought back to light with the recent high-profile deaths of George Floyd and others.

At Lonsdale / Martin Chapel UMC in Knoxville, the Rev. Walter Cross prayed online June 7 for the family of George Floyd, "for the men and women in blue," and for the four men incarcerated for Floyd's death. “We pray for the riff in relationships throughout this country, that healing worlds will flow from pulpits and prayer services and from individuals, that hatred will take a backseat and love will return to the throne.”

At Concord UMC in Knoxville, the Rev. Wil Cantrell preached on racism on June 7. “Following our services, we invited folks to join us for an online Zoom discussion. We had 40 folks turn out to form a group called: ‘Building Bridges: Combatting Racial Injustice.’ The group will meet on Sunday evenings to focus on educating ourselves and working for racial justice in our community.”

At Keith Memorial UMC in Athens, the Rev. David Graybeal has been leading a Zoom book discussion on White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. The discussion “was inspired by the Ahmaud Arbery killing, but it turns out the discussion took place on the day we learned about George Floyd,” Graybeal said. On June 22, the Rev. Andrew Lay will lead a discussion on Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love by Will Willimon.
At Church Street UMC in Knoxville, the “Conversations on Race” group will host a Zoom presentation on The Color of Law: A Forgotten History on How Our Government Segregated America on Sunday, June 14, from 3 to 5 p.m. An online service of lament will be offered for Holston Conference June 20 at 3 p.m.

At First UMC in Maryville, the staff set up a web page for anti-racism books, websites and organizations. The Rev. Catherine Nance has encouraged congregants to view the film, “Just Mercy,” now offered throughout June for free on several online streaming channels.

At Ketron Memorial UMC in Kingsport, the Rev. Josh Swanson preached June 7 on the “Need for Love” as described in Romans 12: 9-21. “Many of our brothers and sisters in this country are hurt. They’re crying out to God and society,” he said. “The question is, how will we respond to that? Is it with love or indifference?”

At Central UMC in Knoxville, the Rev. Jimmy Sherrod preached a May 31 Pentecost sermon that deeply inspired his congregation. “He called us to action, to use the power of God’s spirit to ‘give us the courage to face what needs to be faced and to say what needs to be said,’” one worshipper said. The congregation also plans a book study on White Fragility.

At Sinking Springs UMC in Clinton, the Rev. Billy Kurtz says he preached on racism, and “our church sign now says ‘Black Lives Matter.’ That has created some conversation.” The church is working on offering a Zoom study on the book White Fragility and on “A Charter for Racial Justice Polices” from the United Methodist Book of Resolutions.

At Hiltons Memorial UMC in Hiltons, the Rev. Jason Ratliff preached “Dreams Change the World,” focusing on Peter's dream in Acts 10. “I incorporated Dr. Martin Luther King's speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ and encouraged the viewers to wake up and live the dream of Peter and Dr. King,” he said.

At First UMC in Rogersville, the Rev. Jessica Boyce preached Pentecost Sunday about inequities that could be righted if congregations would give up priorities that are no longer relevant. “What if, instead of spending millions of dollars on utility bills for churches that sit empty six days a week, we used those resources to undo the gerrymandering that ensures that schools with majority students of color receive 19% less funding?”
At the Camp in the Community office in Alcoa, Director Whitney Winston and staff are producing a series of videos with freedom-fighting and black gospel songs; poems from black poets; excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail”; and explanations of inequality for kids. The videos will be shared through the day on June 19, also known as Juneteenth or “Freedom Day” commemorating the 1865 end of slavery in the U.S.

At First Broad Street UMC in Kingsport, the Rev. Randy Frye and Lay Leader Josie Musesengwa asked members to listen to an online “devotion for change” on Sunday, June 14 at 8:30 p.m. Participants will then be asked to go outside, light a candle, and kneel in prayer. After snapping a photo, church members will post the photos on social media with the hashtag #kneelingforchange.


Annette Spence

Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.