To awaken hearts to God’s work in the world through Jesus Christ, to confront injustice, oppression, and white supremacy as offenses to the gospel, and to inspire transformational action for personal and systemic change throughout the ELCA and society.
During the monthly zoom calls, the EDLARJ board has been sharing how very different white lives are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic and the folks of color in the United States.
This month, two of our board members, Shari Seifert and Rev. Jess Harren wrote an article for the ELCA's Racial Justice blog. It is well worth the read.
In December 1864, Union forces camped in Jerusalem Lutheran Church on the banks of the Savannah River at New Ebenezer, Georgia, in preparation to cross the river to invade South Carolina. As the Union soldiers marched across Georgia, hundreds of enslaved people of African descent fled their plantations to follow the troops to seek freedom. However, the commander of the Union forces did not want to be responsible for these people, so after the soldiers crossed the Savannah River, he ordered the pontoon bridges to be destroyed. With Confederate forces bearing down on them, the people plunged into the river to swim across rather than to be forced back into slavery. Numerous people drowned in the swift currents.
A state historical marker describes this incident and is placed outside of the Jerusalem Lutheran Church cemetery, where people of African descent were buried in unmarked graves. Four years ago, the Effingham County Chapter of the NAACP started hosting an annual ceremony to honor the ancestors buried outside of the cemetery. The EDLARJ provided a grant to mark the burial site with a plaque.
On Saturday, February 22, 2020, the Effingham County NAACP again held its annual ceremony. Pastor Mark Cerniglia, the Interim Pastor of Jerusalem Lutheran Church and a Board Member of the EDLARJ gave the invocation. Roxann Thompson, President of the Southeastern Synod Chapter of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA) gave remarks representing ADLA and the Southeastern Synod. ADLA also sponsored a reception at Jerusalem Lutheran Church following the ceremony. Further discussion is taking place between the NAACP, ADLA, the Southeastern Synod, and Jerusalem Lutheran Church regarding how the burial site can be enhanced to honor the persons buried there who contributed to the economic success of the community with their forced labor.
Joint Statement from the Presidents of the Ethnic Specific
Associations of the ELCA on the Impact of COVID-19
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
As the coronavirus crisis sweeps across our nation and through the world, it is being realized that communities of color are particularly affected. Click here for stories from leaders in ELCA communities of color. From racist and xenophobic attacks, to the disproportionate number of deaths in these communities, it is clear that something must be done. Reports of these racist attacks have been featured in national news publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Fox News, among others; and it has been recently released that in the U.S., 51 percent of the reported COVID-19 deaths were African American and Latinx1; these are high percentages considering that nation-wide these populations are smaller than the white population. As the Presidents of the Ethnic Specific Associations of the ELCA, it deeply concerns us that the COVID-19 crisis is having an immensely devastating impact on communities of color in the United States, and we ask the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to please aid in restorative efforts, because that is what the Gospel is calling us to do.
After prayerful conversations with leaders from our congregations of color and minorities, we would like the ELCA to implement the following actions,
1. Increase the budget of the Ethnic Specific Associations of the ELCA, so that we are better equipped to handle the unique challenges of this crisis.
2. Create and make available COVID-19 resources for congregations with large populations of people of color, in order to help them stay informed and, therefore, better navigate this uncertain and grievous time.
3. Make the translation of existing and incoming resources a priority for the ELCA Communications team, so that these imperative materials are readily available.
4. Offer additional support for pastors of color who are experiencing a larger number of deaths and infections in their communities, and help them remain digitally connected to their members. Providing them with subscriptions to digital software, such as ZOOM, can help these pastors accomplish this essential pastoral care.
5. Offer financial support for ministries that are a part of these vulnerable communities.
6. Contact government leaders to ensure that they are providing adequate resources for communities of color, and ask them to include immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in all COVID-19 recovery plans. It is imperative that our government leaders hear that their constituents want to see meaningful solutions that support all of our neighbors, regardless of their immigration status.
7. Advocate for policies that take into account these devastating realities and are working to aid these communities in need.
1 apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race, APM Research Lab
We thank the Presiding Bishop and her team for listening to our pressing concerns and potential solutions. Having been involved in various social justice campaigns across our nation, we are appreciative of The Rev. Eaton’s guidance and the example by which she leads. Therefore, we must continue to take care of ALL God’s children, especially those most in need.
In this time of fear and devastation, let us be a beacon of hope and salvation for communities of color across our nation.
We are Impactful Together. We are Community Together. We are Church Together.
In Christ, + The Rev. Joann Conroy President American Indian Alaska Native Lutheran Association Inc.
+ Jennifer DeLeon President Latino Ministries Association of the ELCA
+ The Rev. Khader El-Yateem President Association of Lutherans of Arab and Middle Eastern Heritage of the ELCA
+ The Rev. Gigie Sijera-Grant President Association of Asians and Pacific Islanders-ELCA
+ The Rev. Dr. Russell L. Meyer President European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice of the ELCA
+ The Rev. Lamont Anthony Wells National President African Descent Lutheran Association of the ELCA