A small community of Eastern PA Conference members chatted in the chilly, pre-dawn darkness of the Conference Office parking lot Wednesday morning, April 4, awaiting the arrival of a tour bus to take them on their journey for justice to the nation’s capital.
Hours after picking up a second contingent at the Delaware House Travel Plaza on I-95, the bus pulled into Washington DC with 36 passengers ready to rally against racism with thousands of other advocates, activists and religious leaders of many faiths.
Together they congregated on the National Mall at the all-day “A.C.T. (Awaken, Confront, Transform) to End Racism” rally. Prevailing against dark, cloudy skies and a brief dose of rain that scattered the crowd at midday, most remained to hear a series of rousing, eloquent speeches and songs from the rally stage urging courage and commitment to the cause.
Many attendees had also gathered at daybreak to worship and witness at the nearby memorial honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the nation’s heroic civil rights leader who was slain on that day 50 years ago. They processed in a silent, prayerful march to the rally site located on the lawn between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument.
The National Council of Churches (NCC), with its 38 member communions representing more than 45 million people, organized the rally, drawing Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of other faiths from across America. Their one message was “Racism is a sin and can be — must be — stopped.” NCC head Jim Winkler, a United Methodist, led the organizing of the rally as part of his organization’s Truth and Racial Justice Initiative.
The busload of supporters from the Eastern PA and Peninsula-Delaware conferences included resident Bishop Peggy Johnson and her Cabinet of district superintendents, retired Bishop Violet Fisher and dozens of clergy and lay members. Shepherded by the Rev. Susan Worrell, co-chair of the sponsoring Commission on Religion and Race, they returned home that evening, like other rallyers, committed to continuing, or even increasing, their witness and work against the sin of racism.
We have asked Eastern PA participants to share with us some reactions to the rally experience and its purpose and impact over the next week. We’ll add some of their comments to this story and highlight some in upcoming issues of NEWSpirit Digest. So, stay tuned.
Meanwhile, be sure to read “United Methodists stand, act to end racism,” the UM News Service’s excellent coverage of the rally, reported by Baltimore-Washington Conference managing editor Erik Alsgaard, with photos by UMNS’s Kathy Gilbert.