Truth & Reconciliation November 4, 2018 4pm
Delivered by Rev. Julia Burkey
Written in collaboration with Truth & Reconciliation Team

With all the beauty in this space, there is so much to celebrate. I am so honored that all of you came to this event and I wanted to share with you some significant work going on in the church that I am very excited about.

When we realized the 350th anniversary was coming up, we thought to ourselves, that is a lot of American history to march through….we are proud to inherit this legacy and we are curious about the church’s role in eras of oppression in American history, whose imprint still exist today. A Truth and Reconciliation Team was commissioned by the Executive Committee a year and a half ago to think with us about and research the ways in which our tradition and our church have, at various times in our history, perpetuated harm and oppression. This is a unique way to celebrate, but we believe a vitally important way to truth- tell. Just like when you have a big birthday you think to yourself, who have I been, and who do I want to be? You look at the whole of yourself with love and say, “self, we are rocking it, but we could do better.” It this churches birthday today!

So today, we wish to publicly claim and acknowledge the difficult aspects of our history so that we may move into the future with our eyes wide-open and with greater accountability. We held ritual space for healing the wounds perpetuated by our ancestors in faith this morning, and now we seek the accountability of the wider community.

This statement not to inspire guilt but to empower us all with a sense of responsibility and a recommitment to healing the world. This, in turn, lays a firm foundation for the generations to come.

So hear now the collaboratively written Truth and Reconciliation Statement:

This church is one of the oldest institutions in the United States of America. Founded long before the United States government, congregational churches model democracy. The path of Jesus which seeks to make central the marginalized, the lost, the least, the vulnerable, which seeks to promote an ethic of loving one another, no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, is central to how we govern ourselves and how we govern our church. This is the legacy we were just singing about.

This is a legacy I believe our entire congregation is incredibly proud and honored to inherit. We celebrate this today, and we celebrate it through the arts, through worship, through community, with tremendous vitality, hope, and vision.

As we joyfully inherit this legacy, we also recognize that Christian institutions often miss the mark of living these values out in dramatically painful ways. As one of the founding churches in America, we recognize the church’s participation in the original sins of this nation.

We repent America’s original wounding that was and is the murder, erasure and violence done to indigenous communities. We lift up specifically the Wangunk Community, which was forcibly removed from this place, Middletown, which was once known as Mattabesett. We acknowledge the wounds caused by our ancestors in faith against Native people and we commit to make amends for these wrongs.

We also recognize that in the second century of this church’s history, Middletown was one of the largest ports in New England, participating in and benefiting from the enslavement of human beings trafficked from their homelands in Africa and the Caribbean. Their forced labor benefited the economy of Middletown, and therefore the economy of this church. We recognize that this church benefited from the institution of slavery. It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the fact that a former pastor of this church, who occupied my very pulpit, held enslaved people, dehumanizing them and benefiting from their free labor.

We mourn and lament this history and the ways First Church has benefitted from the violence against people of color. We repent and commit to making amends for our church’s participation in the institution of slavery and the forcible removal of indigenous communities.

While many of our own blood ancestors were not part of the founding, many of us feel a great sense of responsibility for this institution and its legacy. Even though we as individuals were not part of our ancestors’ mistakes, we have the opportunity — and thus the responsibility — to transform the violent systems we unwillingly inherit. Only by doing this transformative work can true liberation occur. When we realize that not one of us is free, until all of us are free.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. promises, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We commit ourselves to being a part of that bending, and we call on the guidance of God and our community to help us discern the actions we must take to become a pro-racial justice institution. We offer our commitments and amends to the spirits of those who were wronged by our ancestors in faith, and we ask for their guidance and the guidance of their descendants as we walk this path of transformation and healing. We humbly offer this statement as a reflection of where we are now, fully aware that we have a lot of work to do.

So now I move to the blessing of Middletown:

So what can we do? What are the needs of the surrounding community? What do reparations look like? As I mentioned, about a year and a half ago a Truth and Reconciliation team was commissioned, and today they commit to help lead the congregation in becoming a pro-racial justice congregation, specifically because of our churches history. And we need your help, community!

This congregation is in the midst of fundraising for our Vision of creating a sustainable space here, with beautiful space for the arts, with pews cut to become accessible to all, for funding for a youth and families minister, and creating a more equitable world and community. We ask you to join us. We want your help. We want your collaboration and accountability. This church has made commitment to proclaiming safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community, has proclaimed commitment to ecological justice, as taken time to raise awareness around mental health, and we have yet to claim racial justice, but because of our history, the work of racial justice has claimed us, and the time is now.

The truth and reconciliation committee says this:

We commit to healing the wounds caused by our ancestors in faith and recognize the harm caused by this institution. We commit to becoming a justice-centered institution as a way of repairing and healing the wounds generated in our past. We commit to listening to people of color and partnering with local organizations run by people of color so that we may learn from all voices and collaborate to make our community more equitable. We commit to educating ourselves and our community on ways to transform oppression in our own lives. We commit to telling the truth about our history through the lens of justice in order to create a community and an institution that concretely models the messages of justice, love, mercy held at the center of our Christian tradition.

So today, as we recommit ourselves to the best of who we are, as we celebrate the churches radical welcome, as we incorporate the arts, and bring people together, we hold ourselves, our history, and our future accountable for to the healing of these systems that still exist today.

But more than anything, we want your help in blessing the community of Middletown. And for blessings we stand up, so please rise in body or spirit!

I want you to hold in your heart a vision for the world, a vision for this community, a vision for yourself that is planted in you by the divine spark that resides within you. What are your dreams for the world, what are your hopes and visions for this community? Hold them close to you, hold your hands over your heart, and turn your body toward the closest exit, as we bless the world beyond these walls.

Bless, oh spirit of life, spirit of love, spirit of justice, bless the dreams and vision held in the hearts of these people gathered today. May we know deeply that we can do more together than we can do alone. May we know deeply we are each loved, and spread this message of love to all who are lonely, hurting or in despair. May we create together a community that honors all person, a community of justice and love, a community that honors the arts, a community that listens and stays silent when it needs to, a community that comes together in solidarity. We bless the city of Middletown with our commitments and love today. Amen.