In their 150–year history, Sellersburg United Methodist Church has had a long-standing commitment to loving their neighbor. On this strong foundation, the congregation recently launched their first social justice ministry.
During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, weekly Bible studies led by Rev. Joe Sanford moved online. This expanded the congregation to include faces from around the country connected by friends in the Sellersburg UMC community.
Their conversations moved between the text of the Bible and the text of the world around them. When the United States was gripped by the murders of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in 2020, the group wrestled with the topic of racism.
Sellersburg as a community is 88% white. Like many churches around North America, Sellersburg UMC reflects their monocultural context. In the months following, they grappled to understand these deaths and the legacy of racism in the United States.
Rev. Annettra Jones Stephens, Associate Director of Diversity, Missions, and Justice Ministries, launched conversations about understanding and dismantling racism, which Joe and Sellersburg UMC took part in. The group also participated in the study by St. Luke’s UMC.
Eventually, the group formalized into the “Social Justice Ministries Team.” The members are committed and eager to make action steps.
Even so, resistance comes in a multitude of ways, and Joe recognizes that the vast majority of the congregation is uncomfortable. Discomfort, however, is not a signal that this new ministry initiative is not God’s leading. “Social justice is part of United Methodist history,” Joe reminds them, “This is what we’ve always done.”
He is referencing history—including John Wesley—who spoke out on behalf of indigenous groups in the U.S. colonies and Methodist activity in the work of abolition, suffrage, and civil rights.
Additionally, present commitments such as the , , and current United Methodist baptismal vows are a testament to social justice being at the heart of our faith tradition and heritage.
The Social Justice Ministries Team meets regularly to develop their understandings of faith and justice. Too often, faith and justice are disconnected. Joe reflects, “Faith leads us into social justice because that’s what the kingdom of God on earth is about.”
For pastors in similar contexts feeling called to begin social justice ministries to dismantle racism, Joe gives the encouragement to, “Just take the next step. I can’t change the world, but I can figure out how I’m called to be active where I’m at.”
The group is modest in size—boasting four members from the congregation. In the same way that God continues to do mighty works through small things, this team remembers Jesus’s words about the mustard seed—a “tiny but mighty” kernel that through time God grows into a tree, which is a place of protection and life for the birds (Matthew 13:31-32).
“If we focus on the small, seemingly–annoying little plant, the mustard seed, it will slowly take over. In the same way, if we focus on the motivated people where the Spirit is at work and trust that the ministry will grow, it will get there…God loves to meet us where we are, but God loves us too much to leave us there. Just take the next step,” Joe said.
Are you interested in learning more about resources for understanding and dismantling racism? Check out the from the Mission + Justice Ministries team, or contact Rev. Annettra Jones Stephens for upcoming webinars at firstname.lastname@example.org.