United Methodists in Arkansas respond to July shootings

Community members came together at a Searcy park for a July 18 prayer service sponsored by First UMC Searcy and neighboring congregations, as well as the local police and fire departments. PHOTO BY AL FOWLER, COVENANT FELLOWSHIP CHURCH

Community members came together at a Searcy park for a July 18 prayer service sponsored by First UMC Searcy and neighboring congregations, as well as the local police and fire departments.
PHOTO BY AL FOWLER, COVENANT FELLOWSHIP CHURCH

By K.D. Reep
Special Contributor

Shots rang out in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas the week after July 4, and Arkansas’ United Methodists reacted with action, prayer and love.

Reeling from the shooting deaths of civilians, police and protesters alike, churches across the Arkansas Conference provided ways for United Methodists and their neighbors to grieve, reflect and heal. Here are just a few of the ways the people called Methodist responded:

  • First UMC Maumelle held a prayer service from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 8 for those who wished to pray in conjunction with the City of Dallas’s Prayer Service.
  • Pulaski Heights UMC Little Rock opened its sanctuary from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 8 for anyone seeking a place to lift up our nation and cover it in prayer.
  • Quapaw Quarter UMC Little Rock provided space for black healing for Black Lives Matter Little Rock from 6-8 p.m. on July 8. The space served as a call to grieve, and the focus was on healing. Afterward, everyone in attendance shared a meal, fellowship and prayer.
  • On July 8, Calico Rock UMC posted on its Facebook page, “Let us be in constant prayer for the people of Dallas, its law enforcement officials, and law enforcement across the country as we grieve the loss of so many lives in the line of duty.”
  • On July 10, Cornerstone UMC Jonesboro lifted up our nation, communities, families and those who serve and protect us daily by providing cookies and thank you cards with words of encouragement to local police officers.
  • irst UMC Little Rock on July 10 posted the photo above on its Facebook page, with the comment, “We affirm that all lives matter, but we must remind ourselves that black lives matter and police lives matter because some in the world are acting as if these lives are disposable. Tying these ribbons on our trees is a physical form of our spiritual prayer.” PHOTO COURTESY FIRST UMC LITTLE ROCK VIA FACEBOOK

    First UMC Little Rock on July 10 posted the photo above on its Facebook page, with the comment, “We affirm that all lives matter, but we must remind ourselves that black lives matter and police lives matter because some in the world are acting as if these lives are disposable. Tying these ribbons on our trees is a physical form of our spiritual prayer.”
    PHOTO COURTESY FIRST UMC LITTLE ROCK VIA FACEBOOK

    First UMC Little Rock affirmed on July 10 that “all lives matter, but we must remind ourselves that black lives matter and police lives matter because some in the world are acting as if these lives are disposable. Tying these ribbons on our trees is a physical form of our spiritual prayer.”
  • After a misunderstanding surrounding the church’s July 10 attempt to pray for officers and first responders of their community at the nearby 12th Street Substation, the people of Theressa Hoover Memorial UMC Little Rock welcomed Chief Kenton Buckner of the Little Rock Police Department during their July 24 worship service. Buckner offered an apology for the misunderstanding, and the next day accompanied the Rev. U.C. Washington and several members of Theressa Hoover Memorial UMC on a visit to the substation. In addition, five representatives from the church visited with their city director and the city manager, to discuss “how we might build relationship and be more in community together,” Washington said. He added that the city and church are now working together to plan a community gathering with a meal at the 12th Street Substation. Though no date has been set, Washington expects it to take place in August or early September.
  • The Rev. Dr. Jan Davis, senior pastor of Central UMC Fayetteville, posted in a July 11 blog entry, “Reconciliation begins with each of us. We are invited to participate in the work that God is already doing—comfort those who are grieving, pray for their families, work in our own community for reconciliation, strive for peace, combat evil and stand firm for justice. We pray for an end to prejudice, violence, hatred, injustice and suffering in all the ways they present themselves. We proclaim the love of God for our world through Jesus Christ. Love is stronger than hate, good is stronger than evil, life is stronger than death.”
  • Saint Paul UMC Searcy invited all civil servants and their families to the July 17 11 a.m. worship to thank, lay hands and pray for them as well as our nation. At noon, the church served a potluck to all attending.
  • First UMC Searcy on July 18 hosted a Comm-UNITY Prayer Service for the community in response to the previous week’s violence. The service was held at 7 p.m. in Spring Park. Those involved in the event were First UMC pastors the Revs. David Orr and Bill Sardin, with song led by Amy Tate; St. James Catholic Church priest Father Matthew Malapati; Ministerio Cristiano Dios Habla Hoy Pastor Pedro Reynoso; and the Searcy Police and Fire Departments.

‘Embolden us to understand and act’

By Linda Bloom
United Methodist News Service

Heartbreak. Prayer. Healing.

United Methodists are among many in the U.S. trying to figure out an effective response to violence and racism.

In a message sent July 8 to church members, politicians and police chiefs in Arkansas after two recent shootings of African-American men by police and the killings of police in Dallas, United Methodist Bishop Gary Mueller said his heart was breaking “for our nation enmeshed in a culture of violence.”

For those outside the church, an accompanying cover letter offered prayer and the bishop’s assistance as needed.

He expressed concern for “the violence unleashed against young African-American men in a nation that still has not yet addressed the reality of racism,” as well as for the deaths of the police officers shot in Dallas and for a situation in which the church “seems impotent” to bring about the reconciliation that society needs.

Most of all, Mueller wrote, his heart breaks “because we now are captives of fear. An entire community of people—especially parents—fear their sons will not survive. Police officers fear they will be vilified or killed as they try to protect and serve. We fear that the world is spinning out of control.”

The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said the church is “in shock and mourning” even as it prays for those who lost their lives and for their families and communities.

“This week in the events of Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, Dallas, and in many communities across the U.S., we continue to see the horrors of oppression and racism that lead to acts of violence,” she wrote in a statement. “This is not who Christ calls us to be.”

Helping the church engage in this issue is a priority for the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. “The deaths of five Dallas police officers in the wake of the shooting of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile serve as a reminder that the sins of racism and violence continue to plague this country,” said Erin Hawkins, the commission’s top executive.

How to respond?

“Recommit ourselves in prayer and action” to eliminating all forms of racism and a culture of violence, Henry-Crowe said.

React to violent incidents as “an opportunity to show up, speak out and be a source of healing in the communities that we serve,” Hawkins said.

Engage the power of the Holy Spirit “to embolden us to understand and act in ways we have not yet considered,” Mueller advised.

“We can seek to engage elected, community and spiritual leaders in serious and deep conversations to find a way forward by addressing the root causes of what is occurring,” he said.