The last few weeks have seen a huge outpouring of support for the safety of and respect of people of color in light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In Albany Presbytery, which is mostly white, many of our ministers and church members lamented that the black community has faced so much racism and violence over the years. We recognize that our ministers and church members of color have often experienced the same abuse and faced the same fears as those in our communities. Members from the presbytery showed their grief and their support for the need for change in policing practices by participating in the community demonstrations and marches across the region.
From the city of Hudson to Glens Falls, from Schoharie to Troy – and places in between – Christians from our churches were present and engaged. Tim and Kathy Gorman-Coombs were in Schenectady on May 31 and were present when police officers took a knee. As they said, “it was an amazing, atmosphere changing, tension breaking moment”. On June 3 and June 7, Rev. Rebecca Lawson Putman participated in demonstrations in Gloversville and Amsterdam.
On June 5, Rev. Ken Applegate and Rev. Ali Trowbridge, with members of each of their congregations, were in Glens Falls for a rally and walk that numbered about 2000 people. Michael Casey, our presbytery YAAD for the General Assembly this year, worked on the team organizing the event. There were speeches, pizza and music; and some 200 folks were registered to vote.
Schoharie County Against Racism held a vigil on Saturday, June 6 that Rev. Andrea Holroyd attended to support the demonstrators. It was a prayer service and time of remembrance, listening to stories from people who have experienced racism in Schoharie County. The names of many who had died at the hands of police since 2014 were read.
On June 4, Rev. Kathy Gorman-Coombs was asked by The Schenectady Clergy Against Hate group to be present at the Black Lives Matter Demonstration in Schenectady. The organizers of the event—a group called “All of Us” which is primarily made up of teenagers– and the Sheriff’s department had extended the invitation. Kathy was nervous, feeling out of her element at an event like this, but she knew as a faith leader, she was joining with other clergy as witnesses to what was happening as well as symbols of peace. It was an opportunity for her to practice what she preaches. The demonstration had about 80 people. At one point the group stopped in an intersection and either took a knee or laid down saying “I can’t breathe”, remembering both George Floyd and Eric Garner. In spite of attempts from outsiders to disrupt the march, Kathy concluded: “I don’t know that I’ve ever in my life been part of something that so clearly demonstrated doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.”
In the city of Hudson, Rev. Kathryn Beilke brought together clergy and leaders from the city for the “Hudson Presbyterian Church Interfaith Vigil for Black Lives” on June 7, 2020. She kindly shared a video of the event, which clearly engaged a large cross section of folks in this moving vigil. It included words of exhortation from our Synod Networker (and member of Albany Presbytery) Rev. Amaury Tañón-Santos.
Rev. Donna Elia, as a member of the Interfaith Clergy in Troy, joined the march in that city on June 7. The demonstration was sponsored by the local Citizens Action group on behalf of Black Lives Matter. Also present were members of First United Church, along with Rev. Amanda Wagner.
The response of so many of our ministers and congregational members – who stood with sisters and brothers of color who were in pain and who had been the targets of racism – demonstrates that our Christian faith requires that we “act justly and love mercy and to walk humbly with our God”.
To encourage further dialogue among our ministers, Rev. Kate Kotfila will be leading a reading and discussion group this summer on the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. This will assist us to have a deeper understanding of racism and how it impacts people of color on a daily basis. But this is only a start. The discussion needs to go on in our congregations, among those who fill the pews in our churches. There is much more work we all have to do to help ensure justice in our fragmented society.
For further resources to help you and your congregation to address these issues, please see the PCUSA’s Racial Justice Resources.