Last June, a few of us in our Germantown Mennonite Church community gathered to talk about ourselves, the community, and race, which in the words of Jim Walls, is “America’s original sin.” I’ve come to feel that is a very accurate way to talk about it. How we might continue to understand what “white” culture is, and where our individual growing points on race currently are?
Out of that came a few modest efforts, and some of you have taken part in them this year. Sunday school discussions. History moments in church. An anti-racism training weekend. An upcoming bible study group with a primarily black and brown church.
The most ambitious one, however, takes place Saturday, sparked by two realizations:
1) We don’t really know as much as we wish about African American history in Philadelphia.
2) Its hard to talk about the history of enslaved Africans and African Americans without seeing startling parallels with the capture, mocking, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.
The Freedom Pilgrimage became a way to lean into both of these.
Frankly, I prefer not to go through these steps Saturday. I would rather feel that Jesus’s compassion and relationship with me is independent of historical racial violence and oppression that existed before my time. And, if I’m honest, I’d prefer to keep things like nationality, empires, oppression, and torture unto death out of my Easter celebration.
But the echoes are haunting. At the slave market in Philadelphia, we will remember how Judas was given money to hand Jesus over into bondage and death. At Washington’s house, we will hear the story of Ona Judge’s escape, but also remember all the ways the followers of Jesus betray him. We will remember Golgotha as well as Octavio Catto, who fought for his people to vote and was murdered the day he voted.
It’s a mix of history and liturgy. There is so much history I have not accurately remembered or learned. I know this is some of my whiteness, forgetting things and people, always revising history (We all do this, but the powerful do it more).
Yet it is also a time of prayer, or Scripture, and song. That we might liberate ourselves and each other in these tellings. That we might remember the path of Jesus who understands suffering at the hands of power. And that we might grow in courage, thirst for justice, and desire to listen to history told from the underside.
I hope some of you will join us. Some amazing people have worked hard to get this together (special shout-out to David Krueger, John Bergen, Anna Hoover, and a number of great friends at Arch St. Methodist, which whom we are partnering).
There are so many stories we will not be able to tell. But I think that you will find this a rich way to spend the Saturday before Easter: tracing the steps of prophetic voices against racism from 1600s on….and remembering words from Scripture in those last days. I hope you might join us.
Dee Dee Risher is part of the Germantown Mennonite Church community. She’s recently been amazed by reading how long-lived and powerful the abolitionist battle was in the United States, spanning almost 200 years.