luke-lea.jpgProtester. Pastor. Preacher.

The text came in late at night for us to read up on what had just happened on the floor of the Tennessee State legislature. I skimmed two news articles from June 16, and prepared to meet a small group of clergy and activists the next morning at Ida B. Wells Plaza in downtown Nashville.

The “fiscally responsible” legislative body was under pressure to pass a budget under the crunch of COVID-19, but racially motivated antics were making headlines as controversial amendments came to the fore. Rev. Ingrid McIntyre gathered Glencliff UMC staff at the church to pack water, snacks, written prayers, and communion elements for those we might encounter. 

luke-lea-story2.jpgI observed and listened as the organizers led us into the balcony of the capitol building. It seemed inevitable, but indeed, the (KKK Grand Wizard) Nathan Bedford Forest bust removal bill was not even considered for amendment. We joined in prophetic voice echoing in the chambers of legislative authority: “Our Father…” and before we could all say, “for Thine is the power,” the hands of Tennessee State Troopers were carrying clergy bodies out by force.

I walked beside Black clergy who questioned in tones of lament and resistance why we were led out the back door of a building that belongs to the people. Back on the street, troopers outnumbered nonviolent protesters 2:1. As Ingrid offered the elements, the Eucharistic liturgy spun in my head:

We have not done your will,
We have broken your law,
We have rebelled against your love,
We have not loved our neighbors,
And we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.

And the image of a broken body and poured out blood took on not just the name of Jesus, but of George and Breonna too.

When the day was done, drenched in a sense of defeat, I wondered why I had even come. Sure, I effectively utilized some protest strategies I learned at Candler to stay safe while advocating for justice, but I didn’t see the desired outcome.

Perhaps, I would have been better off working on tasks directly related to the Glencliff UMC community—ones I was more rightly qualified to attend to or where my gifts lay.

For example, in the pandemic context, we had been re-imagining a pastoral care strategy centered on going out to homes as our building was closed. For many, the church was the primary avenue for healthy relationships and access to resources related to food, housing, and healthcare. We had no consistent list or database of current members, rather a host of partial lists and one unedited member roll reflecting three times the amount of active folks connected to Glencliff. The pandemic spurred us to think about home visits in exciting (maybe more traditional) ways. Our “delivery map” systematized by zip-codes/neighborhoods, might even develop into a tool to facilitate local small group gatherings with neighbors, before we are all back together in worship.

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An entire day down at the capitol also made me feel off schedule for worship preparation. Our staff collaborates to record each movement of worship by Thursday night, so that it can be spliced together for Sunday. Wednesdays are the new Saturdays for church, and the sermon really ought to be written and settling into the preacher’s bones by now.

I came into work on Thursday with a tired body, a fainted soul, and scattered mind paling in comparison to the weariness communities of color must feel. One day. Just one day of anti-racism work had me asking, “What kind of job is this, where I sit on a front porch one day listening to congregational stories, read commentaries the next, and then listen to state budget amendments for two hours the day after that?”

What I am learning most of all in this summer internship is that I can manage all three, if I allow myself proper rest and do this work collaboratively. Protest. Pastoral Care. Preaching. They can inform one another—they must! I remain grateful for Glencliff UMC, The Village at Glencliff, and Candler School of Theology for cultivating these facets of my ministry this summer.

Top photo: Luke (right) gives a tour of The Village at Glencliff's micro-home community on the church campus (Credit: Erin Sears). Learn more about The Village at Glencliff here.