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Transcript: Pastors Model Peace After Ferguson


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The Rev. Matt Miofsky, The Gathering United Methodist Church: “I learned that racism is more real than I wanted to admit. I learned as a white guy, as a white pastor, as a white Christian, that there were a lot of things I was overlooking, that I had not allowed my faith to fully open my eyes to.”

Matt Miofsky is a United Methodist pastor at the Gathering, which has four locations, all very close to Ferguson, Missouri.

When racial tensions came to a head there in late summer 2014, he was among those who gained a new perspective. But his friend, Willis Johnson, pastor at Ferguson’s Wellspring United Methodist Church, found the events all too familiar.

The Rev. F. Willis Johnson, Wellspring United Methodist Church: “This is not a new reality for many of us. This is just the point in which it has gone viral. But this has been an epidemic in the lives and communities of particular people for far too long.”

Nat pop Johnson: “We want to pray for the leaders of this community.”

The outcry after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot during an altercation with police was literally heard by those at Wellspring. The church is just down the street from the police station.

Johnson: “Our space was no longer simply our space. We became very much a communal space. And the expectation was because of not only where we were located, but just how we have tried to carry out ourselves and live out our witness, it was a natural kind of assumption that this would be a place where people would come and be able to pray, or be able to kind of get their bearings. And then, we were very intentional and purposeful to say, ‘Okay, what are the needs at this particular time and how do we help to meet ‘em.’”

Miofsky: “He picked up the phone and we were able to talk about what’s going on and how can our church come alongside you to serve. I think that was one of the blessings of our connection. There were a lot of people who wanted to help, but they had no relationships across those walls that divide us. So the first thing they had to do was find somebody who knew what they were doing in order to begin to serve.”

Miofsky and members of his church immediately reached out to their neighbors. They helped offer day care when Ferguson schools were closed due to the unrest. And they showed their Christian witness, by joining others in the street.

Miofsky: “I saw things that again you didn’t really see on the news. There were a lot of people angry at the police. There’s no doubt about it. But I saw people praying with the police. There were certain people from the state patrol who came and addressed the protestors, who walked with the protestors. So, there were more nuanced conversations and relationships happening even across those lines than what made it on the news.”

Johnson: “It is very difficult to not just see your hometown, but to see, you know, around the corner from you or down the street or your own place of business or your own place of residence immediately being profiled and in such distress. Now the coverage or the optimism and even the question should be, ‘What are we committed to doing going forward?’ We’ve established a Center for Social Empowerment and Justice. Our fundamental ministry model is meeting the needs of people in their condition with unconditional love.”

Miofsky:  “You don’t have to go up to Ferguson to work on the problems of Ferguson. Those are in your own backyard. We have a reading mentor program in one of the lowest performing schools in the city of St. Louis. So we’re beginning to teach kids to read. This matters. This literacy has an impact on racism, poverty, health.”

Nat pop Miofsky: “The absence of personal bias and prejudice does not mean you are free from the sin of racism.”

These friends recognize that change and reconciliation take time, but they are committed to continuing their partnership, and modeling a better way.

Miofsky: “We have to figure out how to be a church that’s in ministry across those walls that divide us. And we haven’t quite figured it out yet. We’re part of that movement that’s working on it. But we’re not there yet.”

Johnson: “Our impact on the world, we believe, is by holding up our corner. And so, our mission field is not halfway on the other side of the map. It is literally for some folks crossing the street, to lovingly and justly care for one another in this space and time.”