Participating in First UMC Germantown's Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative worship celebration, Jan. 17, were (from left) the Rev. Robert Coombe, pastor, the Rev. F. Willis Johnson, guest preacher, and Bishop Peggy Johnson.
Participating in First UMC Germantown's Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative worship celebration, Jan. 17, were (from left) the Rev. Robert Coombe, pastor, the Rev. F. Willis Johnson, guest preacher, and Bishop Peggy Johnson.

Church leaders talk about race and racism

Churches and groups are continuing to talk about race and racism in the church and society, grappling with an existential problem that may never be fully solved but nonetheless demands our forthright attention.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday in January and Black History Month in February both prompt yearly celebrations but also inevitable conversations about what Sojourner’s Jim Wallis calls “America’s original sin.” Are your church members talking about race matters? Are you planning or participating in conversations, celebrations or other special programs or activities? Please let us know. Send information and photos, if you have any, to

Meanwhile, here are some recent and upcoming events where people are indeed talking about this critical concern and proving that, to them at least, race matters.

FUMCOG welcomes ‘Conversations on Race’

First UMC of Germantown (FUMCOG) in Philadelphia heightened its ongoing exploration of race and racism as key concerns in the lives and witness of Christians when it welcomed the Rev. F. Willis Johnson, a pastor and activist in Ferguson, Mo., to address church and community members during Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday weekend, Jan. 16-17.

With the theme “Makes Me Wanna Holler,” Johnson, pastor of Wellspring UMC in Ferguson, spoke and engaged in dialogue about race and reality with about 70 listeners at the church on Saturday night, Jan. 16. He helped lead efforts to foster peace in the face of tense protests in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, following the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman. Johnson also preached Sunday morning during FUMCOG’s annual celebration of the life and legacy of martyred national civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King’s birthday (Jan. 15) is celebrated annually with a national holiday on the third Monday of January. During its annual worship celebration FUMCOG also bestows a Social and Racial Justice Award on an honoree, which this year was local teacher and church Boy Scout leader Ann Perrone.

Now First UMC, located at 6001 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, continues its ongoing Conversations on Race series with more monthly events. On Feb. 7, at 1 PM, it will host a discussion of the book Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority (City Lights Publishers, 2012), authored by highly regarded anti-racism analyst and advocate Tim Wise.

Conversations on two books by celebrated author Ta-Nahesi Coates will occur on Sunday, March 6, at 1 PM (The Case for Reparations) and on Saturday, April 30, from 5 to 8 PM (Between the World and Me). In addition, FUMCOG’s weekly Adult Academy (Sundays at 9:45 AM) will view and discuss short videos about racial topics April 10 and 17. For more info contact the church at 215-438-3677.

GCORR’s Vital Conversations: A Video Series on Realities of Racism

The UMC’s General Commission on Religion and Race continues its Vital Conversations video series Feb. 4, at 9 PM, with the Rev. Cynthia Moore Koikoi sharing insights on how churches can build bridges instead of walls within their communities. Koikoi challenges churches to do just that in her work as a District Superintendent in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Register now to participate in this event.

Previous Vital Conversations series videos include Dr. Robin DiAngelo’s “Deconstructing White Privilege,” The Rev. Dr Miquel De La Torre’s “Church: Building the Beloved Community,” The Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell Jr.’s “Ongoing Acts of Repentance,” The Rev. Dr. David Anderson Hooker’s “Meaningful Conversations about Race,” Dr. Phillip Klinkner’s “Continued Struggles in American Race Relations,” and The Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey’s “Intersections of Oppression.”

Emanuel AME Church shooting survivor to speak at Duke

Jennifer Pinckney, widow of the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was among nine killed last year in the shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, will take part in a roundtable conversation Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 7 PM, at United Methodist-related Duke University in Durham, N.C. The free event, “Reflections on Charleston: A Conversation on Faith and Race,” will be Webcast by live-stream video.   Read press release.  Watch live stream

By John W. Coleman
Eastern PA Conference Communications Director