In mid-January, those in formation for Holy Orders gathered for a weekend of integration and prayerful reflection, supported by clergy from across ECMN. On Saturday afternoon, all participants gathered for an intensive workshop, in which they were asked to imagine themselves serving faith communities in Charlottesville, VA, in advance of the white supremacist rallies that rocked that town this summer. With the understanding that only so much preparation in the face of such crises is possible, participants were asked to work in groups to assemble a toolkit of resources to respond to the crisis in several ways: liturgically, theologically, homiletically, strategically (both within the congregation and within the larger community), financially, and in terms of self-care and public relations.
After each group presented its toolkit, participants were blessed to hear and be in conversation with the Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas, who was serving as the Associate Rector of St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, and who, as a member of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective, was one of the leaders of clergy response to the rallies.
The Rev. Randy Johnson was also on hand to offer his perspective. Randy is a priest with ECMN with 32 years’ experience in law enforcement and emergency management. He works as the Director of the MN School Safety Center for the MN Department of Public Safety. Randy was ordained in 2015, serving St. John in the Wilderness as priest associate and coordinating emergency and disaster response planning for ECMN faith communities throughout the state.
Elaine shared several salient lessons from her experiences in Charlottesville:
First, she spoke of the vital importance of forging deep relationships within and across the community before disaster strikes. The Charlottesville Clergy Collective was formed in response to the shooting at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston in 2015. Because clergy had already built trust and begun to work together, they were in a far stronger position to develop a unified response to the rallies. Randy echoed the crucial importance of forming relationships before disaster strikes.
Second, Elaine spoke of the incredible leadership of organizations, like Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist groups, with more experience in direct, non-violent political action. She emphasized the moral and strategic necessity of those less directly impacted by the hateful rhetoric of the white supremacists to follow the lead of those with more proverbial skin in the game. All clergy participating in counterprotests were trained in non-violent resistance by seasoned activists.
Lastly, Elaine spoke of the importance of prayer in advance of the day’s activities. She shared that she and other clergy from the Charlottesville Clergy Collective had spent weeks praying at the site of the planned white supremacist rally in advance of the day’s events, “saturating the ground” and being a visible witness to God’s love and presence in that place.
We are grateful to Elaine and to Randy for sharing their experience and wisdom with us and for helping us to anticipate the unimaginable. We wish Elaine blessings as she transitions out of her role at St. Paul’s and answers a call to serve in New Jersey.
Missional Support Staff, ECMN