The Arkansas Conference Staff Shares What They’ve Learned From Caste: The Origins of our DiscontentsStaff book study furthers the discussion on racism and caste systems in the United States

The Arkansas Conference Staff Shares What They’ve Learned From Caste: The Origins of our Discontents
Staff book study furthers the discussion on racism and caste systems in the United States

book stack

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In 2020, the staff of the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church underwent a study on implicit bias. Led by the Rev. Rashim Merriwether Sr. Special Assistant to the Bishop for Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives, and the Rev. Jim Polk, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministry, our months-long study led us into vital conversations with each other about implicit bias, prejudice, racism, and more issues on social justice.

Desiring to further explore issues of racism and caste in the United States after our study ended, the Arkansas Conference staff began a new book discussion series exploring author Isabel Wilkerson’s New York Times best-selling novel Caste: The Origins of our Discontents.

Wilkerson’s Caste not only explores the systemic and systematic racism ingrained in the history of the United States but goes further by comparing the caste system of India with our own version of a caste system that has existed right here in America for hundreds of years.

Below are a few responses from Arkansas Conference staff members who share what they have learned from our ongoing discussion on caste, racism, and systemic oppression in the United States.

“The book Caste deepened my understanding of the complex infrastructure that was created in the United States to suppress anyone that is not white.  Although we didn’t create this system, we inherited it and it is our responsibility to recognize it, help others recognize it, and actively work to dismantle it.”

– Megan Rugg, Assistant Director of the Center for Administrative Services

“The book Caste filled in so many historical holes that I had in my knowledge of our country and the role of our state in the suppression of people of color. I especially loved taking part in this book discussion as a staff and hearing the powerful explanations and experiences shared by my black co-workers. Hearing their voices touched me so deeply and taught me that I have more work to do educating myself and others.”

– Melinda Shunk, Children’s Ministry Coordinator

“Caste helped me to understand the unique development of racism in the United States. Through written (and unwritten, but understood) laws and regulations, racism is a part of every aspect of American culture from medicine and education to the economy and the church. When we talk about dismantling racism, it is not only about dismantling racism in our hearts, but also dismantling racism in the systems that were built and perpetuate racial disparity.”

– Rev. Samantha Meadors, Project Coordinator for The Delta Project

“Caste has opened my eyes to countless ways that our country has been set up to actively work against black people while also creating systems to ensure that white people were not taught to recognize these racist policies.  And, I’m learning that open, honest conversations are important, although uncomfortable at times.”

– Michelle Moore, Youth and Young Adult Coordinator; Developer of Clergy Recruitment

“Caste shows us that having real conversations on racism and the ways that it has manifested in this country is not only a difficult conversation, but pulls at many of our inherited beliefs as a society. As we navigate each chapter, ideologies, traditions, and biases are challenged and re-examined. This leaves individuals on both sides of the conversation over race feeling vulnerable while defining a new personal narrative about self and what responsibility or role we have as part of humanity and the Christian Faith to address the sin of racism. Caste peels back the layers of a complicated past and a hidden present. Caste does not focus on the blame game, but paints the picture for all to see an honest look at the cause, duality, and the collateral damage racism has and can cause in the story of humanity if we don’t have the conversation. Caste reveals the sin of racism and promotes a space for everyone to learn, grieve, repent, affirm, transform, and grow.”

– Rev. Rashim Merriwether Sr., Special Assistant to the Bishop for Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

Learning about the caste system in the U.S. was eye-opening. I was somewhat familiar with India’s history of the caste, but reading this book made me more aware of how prevalent it is today. We see those on the highest rungs of the caste system — people with power, money, those in government — frequently pit the middle class against the subordinate poor caste to deflect attention away from what the wealthiest or most powerful may be doing. A recent example of how the caste system works is demonizing those on unemployment as lazy and taking away benefits. Never taking into account facts of life such as low wages; availability of full-time jobs with benefits rather than lower-paying part-time positions without benefits; the lack of available and affordable childcare and eldercare; affordable housing; and reliable transportation. These are real issues that we face in our country.

I was also sickened to read Hitler’s observation of the American South. He was impressed and marveled at our knack for maintaining an air of innocence about the torture and death of our slaves. One way to do that was to change the conversation. It was easier to think of slaves as currency, machines, and property rather than human beings.

– Mona Williams, Benefits Officer

For more resources on the Arkansas Conference’s Dismantling Racism Initiative, visit

Ebenezer Camp Ground to Hold 200th Annual Encampment

Center Point, Arkansas – Ebenezer will begin its 200th annual encampment with an 8:00 pm service on Friday, July 16th. Daily services will be held at 11:00 am and 8:00 pm with an afternoon service at 3:00 pm on Sunday and Wednesday.

Rev. Carlton Cross of First United Methodist Church of Pine Bluff, Arkansas will be the evangelist. Young campers will be under the direction of Jeremy Carter, of Magnolia, Arkansas. Mrs. Carolyn Carter of Junction City will return as pianist and Morgan Lee of Butterfield, Arkansas will serve as song leader. Rusty Jones of Gurdon, Arkansas will serve as host pastor. Thomas Lee of Butterfield will speak at the lay service on Sunday afternoon.

The Truth Infusion group, including camper Kelly Wright, will offer music beginning at 8:00 pm on Saturday night. The Testimonies plan to return Monday evening for their twentieth meeting. That evening service will be followed by the traditional ice cream supper.

The camp ground is located off Highway 278, three miles north of Center Point. Services will end Thursday evening, July 22nd.

My great grandfather became a regular in 1874 and one of his daughters trained my grandfather to enjoy Ebenezer for years, as my dad did for my mom. It truly is a place of reunion with good food, good preaching, good singing, dinners on the ground, homemade ice-cream and lots of visiting with kith and kin.

For more information, contact: Bob Lee at 501-922-3958 or

Jacksonville First Turns Sunday Morning Worship Into A Churchwide Vacation Bible SchoolIntergenerational worship is the goal of this year's VBS

Jacksonville First Turns Sunday Morning Worship Into A Churchwide Vacation Bible School
Intergenerational worship is the goal of this year's VBS

Jacksonville First UMC’s sanctuary decorated for the To Mars and Beyond Vacation Bible School, which is taking place during morning worship for five Sundays this summer.

By Caleb Hennington

Digital Content Editor

Vacation Bible School is one of the hallmarks of summer vacation for kids, but oftentimes it takes place outside of the traditional church service, leading many parents and church members unaware of the wonderful ministry taking place inside their church. That’s why Jacksonville First UMC decided this year to make Vacation Bible School and Sunday morning worship one and the same, integrating a typically week-long VBS into a 5-week Sunday morning worship experience.

“For the next five Sundays, we’re going to have Vacation Bible School as an entire congregation, rather than just a segment of our congregation, which is usually just the kids,” said the Rev. Nathan Kilbourne, senior pastor at Jacksonville First UMC.

Kilbourne said that the idea for an integrated, intergenerational VBS came about earlier this year during planning meetings with Stephanie Dunn, the Christian Education Coordinator for Jacksonville First.

He and Dunn had thought about doing an at-home VBS last year when the pandemic was still spreading quickly through their community, but ultimately, the decision was made to forego VBS in 2020. So when planning for the 2021 VBS came about, and they saw that infection numbers were down and it was safer to gather, they were itching to do something in person again.

“I was in the middle of my sermon planning at the same time and thinking about all that we’ve gone through over the course of the past year and asking, ‘what could Vacation Bible School look like this year?’” Kilbourne said.

“The desire to be together as a church family was kind of driving a lot of this, that what if instead of doing a normal VBS, we said the entire church gets to participate this year, whether you’re an infant or you’re 100 years old, and we’ll all get to do this together.”

rev nate

The Rev. Nathan Kilbourne dresses up as a space explorer during Vacation Bible School at Jacksonville First UMC

The planning team settled on a multi-week VBS, with each “day” of VBS taking place on a different Sunday morning throughout the end of June and into July. Instead of four or five days in the middle of the week, Jacksonville First’s VBS would take place during Sunday morning worship.

The theme of this year’s VBS at Jacksonville is To Mars and Beyond, said Dunn. It’s the same theme that was produced in 2019 by Cokesbury but is being reintroduced this year to a new audience.

Dunn said that each day of VBS will operate just as it normally would during a week-long VBS.

“We are doing the opening assembly and closing assembly of Vacation Bible School, along with Rev. Nate’s preaching around the Bible story that’s told each day. And we’re also doing the music portion during worship,” Dunn said.

The entire sanctuary has been decorated with the To Mars and Beyond theme, complete with a red and white rocket ship next to the lectern, streamers and celestial decorations hanging from the ceiling and on the walls, and quirky robots on the stage.

Kilbourne said that his Sunday morning sermon will be related to the story that corresponds to that day of VBS.

“It’ll be geared more toward kids. So, you know, like Vacation Bible school typically has a storytime where they learn the Bible story for the night. I’m taking that and modifying it a little bit to make it for everybody but still with a bent toward kids,” he said.

For music time, the songs that kids typically learn during Bible School will also be taught to everyone in the sanctuary during morning worship, complete with corresponding arm motions and silly sound effects if necessary.

stage rocket

A rocket ship and more space-themed items decorate the stage at Jacksonville First UMC.

Game time, craft time, and snack time are the only portions of each day that won’t take place in the church sanctuary, according to Dunn. But if anyone from the church wants to join in for those activities as well, they are welcome to do so in the church’s gym immediately following worship.

Both Kilbourne and Dunn said that the most important thing they hope both the congregation and kids get from this experience is a deeper appreciation for the importance of intergenerational ministry.

“Churchwide, it’s important for the children to be in participation with adults and vice versa. I think it’s also important that the kids see the rest of our church taking on a program that they loved so well and enjoying it just as much as they do,” Dunn said.

Kilbourne said that being separated from each other for the past year has really affected everyone at their church, and this Vacation Bible School also gives the congregation a chance to be together in fellowship again.

“By doing crafts together, doing recreation together, doing science together we’re hoping to bridge those generational gaps to help us see the family that we have in God,” Kilbourne said.

“One of the things we’ve also said is we’ve had enough difficulty over the past year, we just want to have fun and as a congregation, we just want to enjoy one another’s presence and to let loose a little bit because we’ve had a lot of serious stuff happen. We want to inject some joy into our entire lives together as well.”

Jacksonville First UMC’s first VBS was on Sunday, June 20. It will continue for the next four Sundays, June 27, July 4, July 11, and July 18. For more information, contact Stephanie Dunn at

My JuneteenthA personal reflection on why we celebrate June 19

My Juneteenth
A personal reflection on why we celebrate June 19

boy summer

Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

By Rev. Rashim Merriwether Sr.

Special Assistant to the Bishop on Ethnic Concerns and Initiatives

June 19, 2021, marks my 52nd birthday. I imagine like most people, the idea of a birthday is filled with cake, candles, well wishes and, of course, who can forget the presents. As my son puts it, you’re “celebrating your first breath day.”  The day should promote feelings of joy, relationship and reflection on how far you have come and how blessed you really are. However, despite the family, friends, gifts, and fellowship this day, June 19 has always held an extra significance in my life.

Juneteenth was a special day in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We would get up early and grab our lawn chairs, grills, radios and go to Martin Luther King Drive, where one of the largest block parties you could imagine would take place. For about 2 ½ miles there would be music, food, dancing, street performers, artisans, and I can’t forget the roasted corn. People would be laughing and singing, and it was one of a few moments where there was no random gunfire and no police sirens, only fellowship and celebration as far as the eye can see. Different people of different shades black, brown, tan, and every shade in between, together in one place. It was a time of recognizing our own presence and place in this society. Our value, our ethnicity, was our super-power and the streets were thick with life and promise.

This was how I spent many of my birthdays. I understood that this was more than my birthday, it had a deeper meaning and a larger significance in my life and my journey as an African American man.  So, I was baffled the first time someone asked me the question, “What is Juneteenth? What is it all about?” As I tried to focus and gather my thoughts, I began to see how important the narrative is and why we must share it with as many people as possible.

On September 22, 1862, the president of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln, issued an ultimatum to southern Confederate states who had withdrawn from the Union and were in rebellion with the United States. The proclamation stated that any state found to still be in rebellion at the end of a 100-day period would by proclamation, on January 1, 1863, have all people that have been held as slaves be made free. And that the Executive Branch of Government, its military and naval authority, would recognize and maintain that freedom without repressing any efforts of any enslaved person trying to gain their actual freedom. It was also declared that starting on January 1, 1863, freed slaves would also have representation in Congress, by members chosen at elections by a majority, which would be considered as evidence that those states were not in rebellion against the United States of America. President Lincoln identified those states as: Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia respectively.

By declaration of the president, any slave in those states was now and forever free. Lincoln asked for all those who have been freed by this proclamation to abstain from violence unless in the necessity of their own self-defense. All freed persons who were capable of serving would also be allowed to serve in the armed forces of The United States military, free to serve in garrison forts, stations, and other positions, of military service.

There had been other measures and initiatives made to resolve differences between Lincoln and southern states in rebellion before this but with no headway.  Something had to change in order for this country to move forward as a nation. Although the initial advocacy of this measure was not fully supported by many legislatures of the day, it was clear that in order to keep the United States united, there would have to be a reckoning with the effects of slavery in the country and how it has also held a lasting effect on its social, economic and political landscape. Lincoln would finally have to come to terms with slavery’s stain and how the solution to it all was addressing what slavery means to the future of this nation.

Lincoln would later pen in the Emancipation Proclamation that he believed this declaration was an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution. He wrote, “I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.” January 1 should have been a day of jubilee for all those oppressed by the bondage of slavery, but little did anyone know that this proclamation of freedom and what it meant would be delayed by almost 2 1/2 years.

On January 1, 1863, countless slaves were declared free, however, in some states which had little or non-existent Union army presence, the sin of slavery continued. After the Emancipation Proclamation, it was estimated that 800,000 slaves were still suffering in some form of slavery or bondage across four hold-out states and parishes. The state of Texas was one of those states which were affected by the delay of freedom’s message and the presence of the Union army. Slaves remained in bondage until June 19, 1865, when General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas with the news that all slaves were free. This became the recognized date when the last stronghold of slaveholders fell. In 1979, Gov. Bill Clements signed a bill making June 19 “Emancipation Day” in Texas, a legal holiday. It would also be recognized by countless African Americans as the day slavery died.

Despite the difficult process, sacrifices, death, and suffering which led to the Emancipation Proclamation, it became the forerunner to some of the most important legislation to be made part of our United States Constitution. On December 6, 1865, just a few months after the last stronghold of slavery fell, the 13th Amendment was passed, which prohibited all forms of slavery in this country. And on July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment passed, granting all persons born or naturalized in the United States citizenship. Also on February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to former slaves, was made a bill. Recently, our current president, Joe Biden, signed a bill officially making Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday in the United States.

So, when I wake up on June 19 and take that first breath, and as I take part in the birthday activities planned by my family and participate in Juneteenth celebrations, whether in person or virtually, I will remember the deeper meaning of this day and how blessed I am on June 19.

But I will also remember to get some roasted corn…

United Methodist Communications to Celebrate Social Media Day

Nashville: United Methodist Communications will celebrate Social Media Day on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 with free learning opportunities throughout the day, featuring a special live learning session Q&A at 12pm CT – all at

United Methodist Communications (UMCom) seeks to equip churches with tools to effectively minister daily via social media platforms. Some of the ways the agency helps local churches are through providing social graphics, how-to-articles, social media training, grants and marketing assistance.

Additionally, the agency shares the messages and stories of the church and the Gospel through daily postings across multiple platforms, offering articles, inspiration, Bible verses and more. With more than 1.6 million followers, United Methodist Communications’ social media channels reach and engage nearly 90 million people inside and outside the church, create community and share messages of God’s love.

The immense power of social media is undeniable. As of 2021, the number of people using social media is over 3.96 billion worldwide – that’s more than 50 percent of the world.

“Social media has revolutionized the way we interact with one another, redefining our communication, interaction, and behavior. This is true for the church as well,” said Poonam Patodia, Chief Marketing Officer. “Social media is more than just being social, it’s ministry – and Social Media Day is a good time to celebrate how it can help churches reach out beyond their surrounding communities.”

UMCom has created a vast array of training and resources through informational articles, videos, Q&A, podcasts, and more. The following is just a small sampling of what’s available:

Live Learning Session: Social Media Day Q&A – Pre-registration is available online with question submissions accepted in advance
– Social Media Marketing for the Local Church
– Facebook Groups for Churches
– Social Media: Your Virtual Front Door
Language Options: Resources in Korean, Spanish, French and Portuguese
– Social Graphics: free and shareable images

Social media resources, along with a complete listing of planned activities, are available at

United Methodist Communications is using the power of social media to share inspiring content, provide opportunities for dialogue and increase awareness of The United Methodist Church and our beliefs—and is resourcing local churches to do the same. To support the work of communication ministry in observance of Social Media Day, please visit


About United Methodist Communications
As the communications agency for The United Methodist Church, United Methodist Communications seeks to increase awareness and visibility of the denomination in communities and nations around the globe. United Methodist Communications also offers services, tools, and resources for communications ministry. Discover more about the agency at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Media Contact:
Aaron Crisler