Letters From Our Pastor

Lament, Confession, and Commitment

June 16, 2020 by Rev. Sarah Chancellor-Watson

Throughout the years St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church has enjoyed rich and fulfilling relationships with many of the other congregations along St. Charles Avenue. Despite our different traditions, and even religions, we live out our unity as God’s beloved children as together we have studied the scriptures, we have shared meals, we have worshipped and given thanks to God. With the fervent cries for racial justice in our city and country once again reaching a fever pitch, the faith leaders of these congregations decided that the time was right for us to come together again and answer the call of our shared faith to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. On Sunday members of our congregation joined this greater interfaith community in a silent prayer walk along St. Charles that culminated in a service of lament, confession, and commitment.

Rev. Elizabeth Lott, from St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church, reminded us that the current racial tensions are not anything new. What we are seeing is just the tip of an iceberg that periodically breaks through surface of the water. Knowing that God stands with the suffering and is present wherever God’s children are in pain or grief, we lifted our voices in prayer and solidarity. Acknowledging that as God weeps with our black/African American siblings, we too weep and grieve with them, even as we may not fully understand the depths of that pain.

In the Jewish tradition the holy day of Yom Kippur is set aside for the community to gather and together atone for their sins. Rabbi Katie Bauman, of Touro Synagogue, led us in a prayer based on the vidui, a traditional confessional liturgy used during Yom Kippur. Each of us with our fist on hearts confessed and repented of our own personal acts and our roles within a larger community and society that in big and small ways have protected and perpetuated racist and unjust systems and structures. In our own tradition and theology, we understand the act of confession as not only admitting to our personal sins – those things that we have done and the things we have left undone, but also our corporate sins. This act of confession is not to paralyze ourselves with shame and guilt, but to acknowledge that we are flawed humans and part of a flawed humanity. We need God and God’s grace daily in our lives. When we name our sins we don’t have to be burdened by them, but instead are empowered by the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s justice and redemption of the world.

The definition of repentance is turning away from our old ways and turning towards God. Even as the plans for this event were coming together, each of the faith leaders expressed a strong desire that this not be the only thing that we do together to confront racism and systemic oppression. We asked ourselves many questions about what is our role and place in this work for racial justice? Rev. Jay Hogewood, whose congregation Rayne Memorial United Methodist hosted us in their parking lot, reminded us of the deep significance and symbolic representation of our congregations of predominately and historically white members on one of the most affluent avenues in the city. He noted that it is good and important that we use our collective voices of influence and power to speak the truth in love, showing not only with our words but with our continued actions our commitment to the affirmation of the inherent dignity and worth of black lives.

One of the things that I love and am most proud about serving this congregation as your pastor is that we are a church that puts our faith into action. We are not content to stay behind the walls of our building, but time and again and in many different ways we have answered the call to be the Body of Christ in the world, to love and serve our neighbors as ourselves.  The struggle for racial equality and the work for justice is not a short-term project but is one that will require us to keep up our commitment long after the current strife has left the headlines. In the coming days and weeks and months we will be sharing with you all opportunities for us to live out our faith in this particular way. I was so honored to walk with those who showed up and were able to be a part of Sunday’s walk and service. I hope that many more of you will join us as we have the courage to engage in difficult conversations, listen, learn, advocate, and join our neighbors and friends of all races and religions in working together to bring about the shalom of God’s reign and kingdom.

In grace and gratitude,

Sarah Chancellor-Watson
St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church