Bishop and Lay Leader, members of the annual conference, guests, and staff, thank you for this opportunity. My name is Paul Mitchell, and I serve our mission field as pastor through Vashon UMC. I come before you on behalf of the Conference Commission on Religion and Race, well aware of my privilege as Ordained, White, Cis, Male, and born within the lines. I come to pray with you wielding the power of my privilege, and confessing that my power and privilege are assigned to me and accepted by me through no inherent superiority - merely a notion that has been handed down for generations by those who share those arbitrary characteristics with me. Nevertheless, having been inspired by the New Poor People’s Campaign, the courageous actions of colleagues, and especially the leadership of many who are disproportionately affected by systemic poverty and the effects of the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism, we are moved to pray.
Holy One, you who forgive, who come to those who wait and hope, you who are characterized by steadfast love and plenteous redemption, and who will redeem those who struggle, you who make a difference, you who act positively, who are not indifferent, not rejecting, not ambivalent, do not act arbitrarily, are not stingy, and do not provide only for bare survival:
A great cry has arisen from your people as we have witnessed beloved children taken from the arms of parents - children who through no choice of their own did not stay within the lines - parents who may only have sought an escape from the mud pits of violence and despair. There are glimmers of hope, O God, and yet we do not trust. Now, it seems, incarceration is a family affair. As the psalmist writes, “Because of the treacherous, guide us in your justice; make straight your way before us. For nothing they say can be trusted: their hearts teem with treacheries, their throats are open graves , and their tongues speak nothing but deceit. Pronounce sentence in them, O God! Let them fall by their own devices! Because they fall away from your word, banish them, for they’ve been in open rebellion against you. But let all who take refuge in you be glad and rejoice forever. Protect them, so that those who love in your Name will will rejoice in you. As for the just, YHWH, you surround them with the shield of your will.”
Yet we must confess our complicity. We confess that we have failed to rise up in prayer, in protest, and political action in the face of the suffering, separation, and death of other of your children especially people of color - because they too have been shut out, shut in, or shut down - and then punished for existing on the so-called wrong side of the lines of race or class or gender. Convict us now, having been moved by the plight of some of these your children, to admit what we have failed to see, or seeing have failed to act, on behalf of all your beloved - especially your people of color. In the hours, days, months, and years to come, guide our annual conference keep before us, as we are gathered or scattered. Strengthen us in solidarity, in diversity, and perfect us in love.
For we are sent by the Source, who chooses the foolish to confound the wise, by the Sign, who chooses the weak to confound the strong, and by the Spirit, who chooses those who seem to have nothing to confound those who seem to have everything.
Build the world you want to live in.