Northern Illinois Conference Civil Rights Pilgrimage visits Birmingham
On Thursday, April 27, North Alabama welcomed United Methodist visitors from the Northern Illinois Conference who were on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage planned by the Northern Illinois Conference Anti-Racism Task Force.
As the group arrived in Birmingham to visit some of the city’s historic sites of the Civil Rights Movement, they first stopped at New Beginnings UMC for a warm welcome and lunch.
North Alabama Director of Multicultural Ministries Rev. Seth Shamery welcomed the group and shared his appreciation of how we United Methodists are connected in ministry. He explained that he is part of the Anti-racism Conference Contact Collaborative Team (ACᶟT), a gathering of Diversity leaders from several UMC conferences that gather each month for one hour and once a year in-person. This gathering was initiated in early 2022 by Amania Drane, who is the project manager for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference Strategic Initiative of Dismantling Racism. The purpose of these gatherings are networking, idea sharing, and collaboration around anti-racism work done in conferences throughout the denomination. Rev. Shamery shared how working with this team has been meaningful to him both in his ministry and life. He offered thanks to Northern Illinois for its leadership.
Rev. Shamery also took a moment to lead guests through a brief exercise recognizing how we all experience grief when coming face to face with past acts of racism and when becoming more aware of the racism that is still part of our society. He encouraged participants to recognize their grief, process that grief and to continue their commitment to being advocates for change.
After greetings from North Alabama Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. Dr. Adlene Kufarimai and Central District Superintendent Rev. Rick Owen, the pastor of New Beginnings UMC Rev. John Baldwin also greeted the crowd calling them to “Magnify the Lord” noting that while we cannot make God any bigger, we can magnify the Lord as we work to see God in each other - especially those who do not look like us.
The group was then invited to enjoy some southern soul food. Rev. Baldwin and members of the New Beginnings congregation had cooked a feast of ribs, roast, potato salad, slaw, greens, beans, a fresh salad bar and homemade desserts. Pilgrimage participants were able to enjoy this taste of southern hospitality in the church’s beautifully decorated fellowship hall before they continued their afternoon in downtown Birmingham.
The 2023 Northern Illinois Civil Rights pilgrimage was possible in part due to a grant from the United Methodist General Commission on Religion & Race (GCORR) for initiatives that include “vital conversations about race, cultural diversity, and systemic equity leading to action."
During their five days of travel, the clergy and lay participants visited historic and educational sites in Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and Memphis. As part of their pilgrimage, participants participated in advocacy training activities before, during and after the pilgrimage including daily discussions while on the pilgrimage. The stated goals of the pilgrimage were to
- Provide a safe yet courageous space of listening and engagement which bridge our faith perspective and an understanding of the UMC Social Principles about the sin of racism.
- Promote advocacy work by providing tools, resources, and training to help participants become educators and advocates in their church and community.
- Create a reflective and supportive space to minimize the trauma of this pilgrimage by having prayer, quiet time, and opportunities to unpack what has been learned and experienced.
Article V. of The United Methodist Church constitution upholds the church’s call to eliminate racism saying “Racial Justice—The United Methodist Church proclaims the value of each person as a unique child of God and commits itself to the healing and wholeness of all persons. The United Methodist Church recognizes that the sin of racism has been destructive to its unity throughout its history. Racism continues to cause painful division and marginalization. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate racism, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of racial justice at all times and in all places.” (2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline ¶5)