A Prayer for St. Louis

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 2 | February 21, 2019

St. Louis is more than just the place where United Methodists will gather this week.

We have to talk about genocide of Native Americans…
This country was built on the genocide of Native Americans and slavery.
That’s the foundation of this country.

That’s how genius filmmaker, Spike Lee, summed up the distorted image many Americans have of our nation’s history of discovery, exploration and manifest destiny last week. He was talking about his academy award nominated film, BlacKkKlansman, a documentary about a Black man who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. But he also referred to his disturbing 2000 film, Bamboozled, which explores the traditions of minstrel shows and blackface, among other racist practices. United Methodists gather in St. Louis this week at a crossroads of America’s history of racial violence.

Gateway to the West
Last night on the ride downtown from the St. Louis airport, the Gateway Arch shone in the night sky. It was built as a monument to American Progress and westward expansion across the American continent. But the “expansion” of European Americans across the continent depended upon the removal, displacement and genocide of the people whose home it already was. Cherokee people travelled through St. Louis when they were removed from Appalachia to Oklahoma, Indian Territory. And countless European-American migrants passed through St. Louis passed on their way west along the Oregon Trail or the Santa Fe Trail, claiming land that was not theirs. The Gateway Arch is meant to be a proud reminder of American Progress. Progress came at a cost that is still being paid by the suffering of Native Peoples who lost home, land, language, cultural integrity, social structure, independence, self-sufficiency in its wake.

So, here, on the banks of the Mississippi River, I remember the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 in Colorado, led by Methodist minister, John Chivington. And all the Methodist and other Christian Indian agents who started Indian boarding schools, where children were ripped from their families and stripped of culture and identity. I remember Father Wilbur, Methodist minister turned Indian Agent in 1864, who built the boarding school at White Swan, Washington.

And I learn that just east, across the Mississippi River, eighty Cahokia pyramid mounds mark the largest pre-Columbian Native American city north of Mexico, a reminder of the great cultural heritage of the people who were in this land before Europeans arrived.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot
St. Louis was a destination city during the Great Migration of African Americans from the South in the early 20th Century. Today it is home to roughly equal numbers of African American and White citizens. I remember Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old African American, shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer found not guilty. And, I remember unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, shot and killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Missouri, 15 miles from where I sit. I remember Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. And the Black Lives Matter.

The Church is Here for Healing
Wouldn’t it be something if the Church came to this great city for healing, for peace, for restoration? This morning I pray:

Gracious God, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Put our hearts at peace so that we can see this city and all its people;
              this nation and all its people; this world and all its peoples.
Heal our divisions so that we might be a healing presence to each other and your world.

GC2019, UMCGC

Comments (9)

  • Thank you for keeping us aware of our contexts. Sending prayers for you and all UMs for love, inclusiveness and spirit-inspired community in this important week.

  • I like your framing of the issues. Our great temptation is always toward violence and finger pointing. Lead us not into temptation.

  • Guillermo A. Martinez

    Thank you for casting a thoughtful light on the systemic hypocrisy present within our political and religious culture. Your comments regarding the true foundations our nations history explains how more than 47% of our fellow citizens could vote for a man who was elected to the presidency with the support and endorsement of the KKK and the American Nazi Party.

    Prayers flowing for healing and reconciliation for our denomination and nation …

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