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Hopkinton church forms racial justice committee

  • First Church in Hopkinton has formed a Racial Justice committee to address the issue head on. Some of the key members of the congregation who have been working on it are, from left: Brenda Quinn, a psychologist; Janet Ward, a women’s suffrage quilt builder; Pastor Gordon Crouch; and Lindy Head. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 1/30/2021 7:51:08 PM

George Floyd’s pain, suffered eight months ago this weekend, made a beeline around the country, stopping in Hopkinton and changing minds.

That video – showing a Minneapolis cop’s knee pushing down hard on the back of Floyd’s neck, killing him – stopped America in its tracks. We’ve seen bad images before. For decades. This one, like the others before, couldn’t be ignored. America had seen enough.

The effect this slice of American history has had, the nerve it touched, is undeniable, and it fueled the First Congregational Church’s effort to reach what’s called Racial Justice Church status.

The Rev. Gordon Crouch said it’s a major commitment, and it’s yet to be voted on by his congregation in Hopkinton. It entails work, not words.

There are videos and documentaries to watch, history books to read, gatherings – already more than 100 at a recent virtual seminar – to toss around ideas and opinions.

Crouch and his newly formed board of directors are excited about the possibilities, emphasizing that the need to learn Black culture and hear about Black experiences, so often downplayed or sugar-coated in society, must be re-thought, incorporated into day-to-day life like never before.

As board member Lindy Head said, “This effort at our church is not about being ‘white saviors,’ helping Black people who may be less privileged than we. It’s about coming to terms with white supremacy, and working to unravel it, one person at a time.”

There’s a twist here, reflecting the awesome power of the Floyd video, giving it its due and place in history. This opportunity, to dig deep into the problem, right down to the roots, warts and all, and join this program that first surfaced two years ago, offered by the national UCC.

Crouch thought about it. So did his First Church members. They knew it was a good idea. Nothing happened.

Crouch and members of his congregation freely admitted that the idea was put on the back burner when first introduced, at the annual UCC meeting in Concord.

“We thought, ‘What do we do now?’ ” Crouch said. “People asked if they could take a stand and make a difference. We’re sitting there, a lot of us, and I just thought it was not something I needed to engage our congregation in right now.”

Everything changed in an instant. Eight minutes and 46 seconds to be exact – the length of time Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he begged for breath.

“George Floyd happened and I knew this is what we needed to do,” Crouch said. “It’s unfortunate that it took the killing of George Floyd to pick up this document.”

The instructions handed out by the UCC include a detailed program of reading, talking and listening. Crouch is giving sermons each week, via Zoom, with powerful history lessons and unique ways to view racial inequality in the United States.

He says we should appreciate what George Washington, a slave owner, did for this nation as a general, a Founding Father and the first president, exhibiting strong, stable leadership and great courage.

But, he added, we need the full scope.

Not to criticize. To understand.

“We mythologize these Founding Fathers, and we mythologize our nation’s history,” the reverend said. “Don’t get me wrong, these founding leaders did some very noble and remarkable things that have benefited our nation tremendously.

“But as we have been slowly discovering in recent years, that’s not the whole story.”

Emmanuel Acho, a retired NFL linebacker who’s Black, is also on the video lineup. He wrote Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man.

He read questions he’d received from white people, and his bowling-ball sized biceps belied the patient nature of a man who addressed his audience as “my white brothers and sisters.”

A question he read wondered why white privilege exists.

Acho used a road race analogy, explaining, “If you and I were in a race and the official at the start line, they held me back for the first 200 meters and we’ve simply said, ‘Okay, Emmanuel, you’re now free to run,’ and we’ve acted as if it’s a fair race.”

Later, he added, “In order to stand with us and people who look like me, you have to be educated on issues that pertain to me and fully educated so you can feel the full level of pain.”

Participation in various online discussion groups is great, Crouch and board members said. They mentioned that some members of their church wondered why a specific label – a Racial Justice Church – was needed for an entity that is already all-inclusive. Crouch said standing tall on your soapbox so people hear you is vital in this instance.

“The LGBTQ community is used to being silenced by the church for their suffering,” Crouch said.

The congregation is responding. Board member Janet Ward said this is an opportunity to do something different, something really long term, something, as she called it, “concrete.”

But Crouch knows he’s turned up the heat a bit. Making a change in the world can be no small task. With a new, stated identity for his church and a little publicity, people will be watching for progress, whatever form that may take.

“The label makes us accountable,” Crouch said. “The way we open our eyes and ears is we start to educate ourselves.”

The reverend was critical of what he called white mainline Christian churches for turning their backs on the plight of Black people.

“They always turned away,” he said. “They did not pay enough attention.”

Said board member Brenda Quinn, “God has been screaming for a long time, and I cannot believe I did not hear.”

Crouch also mentioned his own repentance for not focusing on the problem earlier, especially after bypassing a chance to join this nationwide group in 2018.

He’s on board now.

“We want to say, ‘We hear you,’ ” Crouch said, referring to Black people. “Taking on the Racial Justice Church label is to be saying to communities of color that we see the affliction, we hear your demands for justice, and we hear your cries of pain.”

That began late last May.

With a man named George Floyd.


Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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