calendar February 28, 2018 in Congregations

Anti-Racism Team Making a Difference

For Such a Time as This logo

When “T,” a single African professional, and her children experienced mistreatment in their neighborhood and middle school in Havertown, a colleague — Chase Ferguson, a member of the synod’s Anti Racism Team (ART) — connected her with nearby Temple Lutheran Church.

After Pastor Tim Johansen told “T”’s story in a sermon, the congregation wrote and delivered 71 notes of support, along with a flower arrangement and a necklace. The next Sunday “T,” her mother and son visited Temple to thank the congregation.

“We were able to, as a congregation, witness some Spirit-led healing and reconciliation,” Pastor Johansen wrote in the church newsletter. “I’m not sure we will be able to salvage “T’s” residence in this township, but we can let her know that she is loved and appreciated by our Havertown church.” (Read the full story below.)

‘Make a Difference Every Day’

Chase Ferguson (St. Luke, Devon), a member of the synod’s Anti-Racism Team (ART) and teacher at Samuel Pennypacker Elementary School in Philadelphia, became concerned during a conversation with a fellow teacher.

The conversation revolved around a woman, a friend named “T” (her real name is not used here). “T” was being mistreated by white neighbors who were not welcoming her and her family. Her daughter experienced even more overt and harmful racially motivated bullying at her public middle school.

After a year and a half without an adequate sense of welcome in Havertown, Delaware County, “T,” an African woman with a PhD in psychology, considered putting her house up for sale.  Chase said to his colleague, “Let me see what I could do before this (sale of house) occurred.” Chase made several contacts for help including Pastor Pat Davenport, Pastor Dee Littleton, and Vicar Lenny Duncan, who suggested contacting Pastor Tim Johansen of Temple Lutheran Church in Havertown. “I got in touch with him (Pastor Johansen) and he said he was following up immediately.”

You can read Pastor Johansen’s and Temple’s response to this situation in their church newsletter article, “All Are Welcome In This Place” (see below).

“Later on I found out that “T” lost her father and the church was there for her,” says Chase. “I recently was at Temple-Havertown for church and thanked the congregation and Pastor Tim Johansen and Lenny Duncan.” Chase also said Pastor Johansen is very interested in anti-racism training.

“The reason I got involved is due to the frustration I have with our country’s racism and the apparent lack of concern by our Lutheran Church,” said Chase. “There can be no waiting for someone (else) to do so we as individuals have to act. ‘Make a difference everyday’ is what I live by. GOD is always with us and this is part of what he expects from us. He led us to Pastors Davenport, Johansen, Littleton and Vicar Duncan. He gave them direction and Spirit.”

Thank you, Chase, for making a difference and for sharing this story of how a congregation can give life and hope to those facing hate and injustice. If you see racism at work in your community and need help to respond to it, please contact the Anti-Racism Team (). And a reminder that anti-racism training is available to all congregations in the SEPA Synod.

All Are Welcome in this Place

– from The Evangel, February 2018 issue, newsletter of Temple Lutheran Church, Havertown

In January, we had a sermon series called “Churchy Hymns.” We spent four weeks singing and analyzing hymns about church. The hymnists (yes, that is the proper word for those who write hymns), painted gorgeous images for how the church should regard itself and those with whom it is not yet in relationship. The Churchy Hymns we looked at incorporated biblical, historical, evangelical, and even eschatological (end-times) elements of Christian theology to offer perspectives on who, what, and how we worship.

In the middle of this series, we learned about the Marty Haugen hymn “All Are Welcome,” which begins with the words “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live.” That Sunday, I told the story of a single black woman named “T” who moved into Havertown and, after a year and a half, wants out. “T” experienced many racially-motivated micro-aggressions from her neighbors, but Havertown really left a sour taste in her mouth when her daughter was bullied for being black in our local Middle School. Children nicknamed her “Medusa” because of her dreadlocks, and they called her the “N-word.” “T’s” daughter transferred to a private school and their family is now questioning whether Havertown is the right place for them to live and grow.

I told the congregation this story and I insisted that “All Are Welcome” must be the vision that each Christian has for his or her community, not just their church. We then handed out blank cards with our church logo on the front and invited everyone in church to write a note expressing love, support, grief, remorse, or whatever they had on their heart.

The next day, which happened to be Martin Luther King Day, we delivered the 71 hand-written notes to “T” with a flower arrangement and a beautiful necklace, given by one of you. “T” was so overcome with joy and appreciation that she showed up in church the next Sunday! “T”  came to church with her mother and her 3-year-old son, and read a carefully worded statement thanking us for our support. This was one of the most moving and affirming moments I have experienced since becoming your pastor. We were able to, as a congregation, witness some Spirit-led healing and reconciliation. I’m not sure we will be able to salvage “T’s” residence in this township, but we can let her know that she is loved and appreciated by our Havertown church.

There is still a lot of work to be done. I am serving on a committee that will make sure our schools are doing everything in their power to combat racism in our township. In the meantime, pray for “T” and her family, and please, work to dismantle the ways racism plays itself out in your church, your household, and your community. Each day, I hope to do better, recognizing that God is not done with me yet. For the sake of this community, please join us in doing that work.

In Christ,
Pastor Tim