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Practice Justice

Faith Communities Celebrating Juneteenth & Pride

Celebrate together and build community
by Faith+Lead | June 8, 2021

By The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson

I am a poet and storyteller, an animal lover, and a former case manager for trauma survivors. These personal distinctions and core realities matter in discussions of my contemporary ministry because all of them show up in my work as a mainline denominational pastor. The same way my preaching is shaped by years of writing and reciting poetry, virtually every aspect of my service to the church is also formed by my Blackness and that I am a lesbian. To bring the fullness of my gifts to the church and the community, I need to be able to show up with my whole self. To bring my whole self, I need to feel safe. That safety in welcome is something the mainstream church has not always provided for folks like me.

Key elements of trauma-informed care (and trauma-informed ministry) across most definitions are 

  1. creating a space of physical and emotional safety—particularly not adding more trauma
  2. establishing trust
  3. providing equitable resources that respect the unique needs of an individual’s culture and ability, and 
  4. making sure everyone involved has a sense of power and autonomy.  

Basic knowledge of trauma-informed ministry is key for faith leaders seeking to support diverse populations because, as hard as it is to admit, a large number of LGBTQIA+ people and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color)—individuals like me—have experienced personal or historical trauma in the church.  

Celebrate Together, Build Community

One of the most effective—and joyful—ways I have found to create an environment of safety, trust, cultural relevance, and shared power is the incorporation of specific celebrations into congregational life. The sense of safety, affirmation, and community that comes from shared celebration is a powerful antidote to the trauma of continued violence against traditionally marginalized people that makes even a late-night social media scroll potentially challenging to our mental health. How beautiful (and trust inspiring) when that care and support can be found in our church community.

June is a month of delight in our region as multiple congregations and agencies come together to honor and celebrate both Pride Month and Juneteenth. Pride month uplifts the June 1969 LGBTQIA+ led protests against police harassment and unjust laws criminalizing LGBTQIA+ relationships and identity. The demonstrations quickly transitioned from Greenwich Village in New York to an international movement that changed laws and awareness around the globe.  Juneteenth commemorates the 1865 effective end of legal slavery in the United States when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to take control of the state and ensure all people still enslaved were freed. Both celebrations uplift the courage and empowered resilience of the LGBTQIA+ and Black communities, while still recognizing the painful reality of oppression. They are also deeply beloved holidays rich with tradition that displaying knowledge of and care for does much to inspire trust and showcase cultural competency.  

How can faith communities or faith-based agencies commemorate cultural community celebrations like Pride and Juneteenth with respect, relevance, and reverence?  A few helpful things to remember:

  1. Invite and involve people from the centered communities in every aspect of planning as well as in the final celebration and schedule planning activities in ways that prioritize accessibility and non-stress participation for those individuals. This can take the form of community partnerships or compensated consultation if there are not multiple members of the centered community in your congregation or agency who choose to be part of the planning.
  2. Raise awareness and comprehensively educate around the origins and traditions of the celebration to prevent a well-intentioned initiative from becoming culturally appropriative. Pride Month rainbows have powerful meaning beyond decoration and the consumption of red foods at Juneteenth picnics such as Red Velvet Cake or watermelon are a carryover from Central African traditions where red is color of power and Spirit as well as a reminder of the blood spilled by slave ancestors.
  3. Only extend the invitation and promise the welcome your community is willing to be held accountable to as a group. Remembering that an important aspect of trauma-informed ministry is doing no more harm. It is not only disingenuous, but cruel, to host a vending table at a local Pride if your faith community does not support full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ individuals.
  4. Provide pathways for continued engagement beyond the day of celebration for participants to offer tangible support to centered communities. A table of postcards pre-addressed to legislators and LGBTQIA+ or BIPOC seminarians far from home is a wonderful addition to a Pride or Juneteenth celebration. Book groups or Bible studies on liberation theologies are ideal follow-ups to awareness raising and community building events. The pulpit is always an ideal place to proclaim assurance of God’s inclusive love year-round.

Whether your congregation or faith community chooses to build bridges of healing through remembrances of Pride or Juneteenth this year, I pray for all my Black and brown and rainbow siblings reading this a deep sense of healing and safety this month. For the rest of my beloved family of faith, I pray you find a way to be called into support of that healing and safety we so deeply need.

About the Author
The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod, ELCA. She is also a Diversity and Cultural Competency Educator and a former Poet Laureate of York, Pennsylvania who regularly engages in art-based activism and storytelling. More about Carla can be found at carlachristopher.com.

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