Pastoral Letter from New City Session
New City family,
The extraordinary outpouring of grief, protest and anger over the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have captured the attention of us all. We hope that you have had a chance to read the statement from our denomination leaders that we sent to you last week. This is a moment in which, as Christians, we can affirm our faith, stand shoulder to shoulder with others who contend for the truth, weep with those who weep, and work toward real and lasting change in our city and in our own lives.
As the elders of New City, we seek to shepherd the congregation, even while recognizing we come to this moment from different places. For our racial and ethnic minority members, as well as their family and friends, we recognize that the weight and burden of these past weeks is part of a larger weight and burden you may be bearing with regularity in our country, and perhaps even in relationship to our own church. We are thankful for your commitment to New City, and our desire is to increasingly bear these burdens together, and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). We know that others have been engaged in cross-cultural ministry and justice work in our city for quite some time. We want to come alongside you and refresh your heart in this work (1 Corinthians 16:18). Others are wrestling with recent events, and struggling with understanding them and what can be done in response. We want to shepherd you well as we learn, listen and respond together (2 Timothy 4:2). And still others wrestle with what it means to care about racial injustice while also affirming the important and difficult work of law enforcement. For some, this issue is close to home, as you either serve in law enforcement yourself or are close to those who do. We want to love and honor you in this noble work (Romans 12:10)
At the outset, we must acknowledge that black lives really do matter. We mean this not as a partisan or a political statement, but as a theological one. Sometimes people respond, “But all lives matter.” And this is true -- all lives do matter, as every human life bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28). But if all people acted as though all lives matter, there would never be a need for a Black Lives Matter movement. The tragic truth is that for many years in America, black lives have mattered to many less than the lives of those with whiter skin.
With that said, what does it mean for us to grow as a church and as individual Christians in these areas? The denominational letter summarizes this under five points. The applications could be countless under each, but we want to offer a few suggestions.
For Christians, lament is often the first step as we mourn that things are not as they are supposed to be. We cry with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” and pour out our grief and sorrow before God. In particular we lament the violence, suffering and injustice in our country. We lament prejudice and bias and partiality, as it exists in the country, but also in the church, and in our own hearts. Lament neither gives up on hope nor does it ignore reality. It recognizes where we are and where we need to be and cries out for God to narrow that gap. This is a regular rhythm for us in our corporate worship at New City. We encourage you to participate with us when we gather together, but also to lament as a part of your personal prayer life. Use this guide to write your own lament.
Racial reconciliation and justice are impossible in our own strength. Only God and the Gospel can avail. And that means we need to pray. In prayer we acknowledge our own powerlessness, but at the same time acknowledge God’s power to act, save and change. We want to invite you to join with us in a Day of Prayer and Fasting on Monday June 22. We will provide you Bible reading and prayer exercises to use throughout the day, as well as guidance on fasting. And then we will gather together outside the church at 5:30pm to sing and pray together. (Details to come soon)
Martin Luther said that all of the Christian life is repentance. Christians should repent of all manner of sins. This should include sins of racism, partiality, racial hubris and lack of love for neighbors. Pray for soft hearts, gospel patience and a spirit of humility as you examine your own heart on these issues (Psalm 139:23-24). Ask: are their times and ways I have harbored racial animus or bias? Have I failed to recognize the image of God in others? Have I failed to see and hear the pain of others? Ask God to reveal not only sins of commission, but also sins of omission. What good have I left undone?
Watch films like Just Mercy, Selma, Hidden Figures and 13th. Read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Read Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise and Heal Us Emmanuel by a collection of Presbyterian authors. Start with this article from PCA pastor Russ Whitfield. Even more important than reading or watching will be listening to the stories of people that God has brought into your life. As a church we intend to offer ongoing opportunities for conversation and learning about race and justice.
Be intentional with hospitality and friendship. Involve yourself with people who are different than you racially, culturally or socio-economically. Never underestimate the power of real friendship. Give to and serve with ministries and organizations that work toward justice and healing in our city, and invite others to do the same. For example: New City ESOL; AAM; Mosaix Cincinnati; Back2Back Cincinnati; CityLink; City Gospel Mission; Care and Share Ministries of New Life Temple; Whiz Kids; Lydia's House; Reconcile Community Church; Life Forward; Redeemer Cincinnati; Greater Cincinnati Urban Young Life.
This a small sampling of what needs to be done on a longer journey of becoming the church God wants us to be. The elders and pastors are committed to studying and applying the work of the PCA's study committee report on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation. We recognize that we have a long way to go in welcoming, listening and elevating minority brothers and sisters in Christ, and we invite you to join us and pray for us.
Together let us call upon the Lord who has saved us with a holy calling. Let us encourage one another in love and hope. And let us commit to growing together as we seek to celebrate Christ and serve Cincinnati.
In the love of our gracious Savior,
The Session of New City Presbyterian Church