At its special meeting on behalf of Synod 2020, the Council of Delegates conducted a short service June 17, lamenting the racism being experienced by so many. Synod 2020, the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently retired pastor Emmett Harrison, Classis Grand Rapids East, called racism a pandemic within a pandemic. “COVID-19 kills black people at three times the rate of white people,” he said. “It takes a higher toll with those with underlying health issues, which are more prevalent among black, brown, and indigenous people. In the middle of this unprecedented crisis, we witnessed murder of another black man. We are confronted with callous disregard for black bodies. Enough is enough. Before we can move on, we must lament, repent, and repair.”
Delegates were led in a reading of “A Litany for Those Not Ready for Healing,” by Yolanda Pierce of Princeton University, followed by a message from Sheila Holmes.
Holmes, from Classis Hackensack, has been on the Council of Delegates since its inception, and before that the Board of Trustees. She has been a delegate to and an officer of the CRC’s annual synod and is a longtime pastor in New Jersey.
Descended from slaves, she told delegates that she’s been part of the CRC for over 50 years. In that time, she has watched the struggle with racism. “We’ve gone from setting up programs and institutions, to synodical committees, to multiethnic conferences, to diversity in leadership programs. We continue to talk and we may even continue to lament,” she said. “We take a moment. I believe the moment is sincere. But until our lives connect with one another and we are willing to ask the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and attitudes, nothing changes.”
Holmes said she stays in the CRC, sometimes wondering why. It’s God’s choice, not mine, she said. “God is still moving me,” she said. “I’m not an angry black woman, but I’m a hurt black woman. Even in the church I have not been seen as an equal. I’ve seen black pastors become discouraged.”
“This is not about programs,” she continued, “but about relationships, about trust and respect. Even though I may disagree with you—may even question why you say the things you say—I respect you so that we are able to admonish and encourage each other in love, that we together know the God of the universe, who lives in each one of us.”
She ended by telling delegates there is a time to lament and mourn, but also a time for action. “If we only mourn, we go nowhere.”