Last Saturday, I joined hundreds of counter-protesters on a march from Barfield Park to Church Street in Murfreesboro. In the days leading up to the counter-protests in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, many people were questioning what to do. Do you ignore the white supremacists' groups? Simply stay home so there is no audience or attention given? Or do you show up and resist, allowing your very bodily presence to say, “No way, not in my city?”
I felt strongly that I should show up and I heard my friend from VDS, Rev. Keith Caldwell, was helping organize a peaceful counter-protest in Murfreesboro. I gathered information from the Murfreesboro Loves FB page and searched for friends to go with me. It may sound odd, but just sharing these posts on social media, as well as texting friends about going, helped keep me accountable. Do you ever feel led to do something and then allow yourself to back out when it is time? Me too.
So Saturday morning, Rev. Carlos Uroza and I met to carpool to Barfield Park. When we arrived, there were several other UMC clergy and laity. Organizers broke us up into three groups: people staying in Barfield, people marching to another park, and people marching to Church Street, the main road to the square and the route white supremacists groups would travel.
I remember one organizer having us all quiet down. He said, “Let’s take a few moments to be here.” So we silently took it all in, grounding ourselves in the moment. It was a worshipful pause, a holy call to center oneself. It solidified what I’ve been learning about prayer. It should always lead us to action. We should be propelled out of prayer ready to love better, to live differently, to fight for what is just.
When we were called to line up, clergy were asked to come to the front. This took me back to an interfaith clergy meeting I attended days earlier. The general consensus was that we clergy have to be leaders in our communities. Too many other voices and allegiances are begging for followers.
I also noticed that we were asked to line up two by two. This reminded me of Mark 6: “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits … They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.” This is reassuring to me. We were never meant to do ministry on our own. We were meant to go to together, with the authority of Jesus, to battle the demon of racism in America and offer the soothing balm of love.
And because we went together on Saturday, every piece of the body contributed to making the whole more beautiful and effective. Over and over I watched people work out of their gifting. Carlos, a person who knows that every table offers holy communion, handed out the sacraments of candy. Pratik Dash, a person who knows someone has to step up and lead, kept us energized with chants and songs. Other counter-protesters braved the square to come face to face with self-proclaimed neo-nazis. In other words, how we approach dismantling hate will look different for each of us and that is okay. The important part is that we all try.
Further, in this case, showing up together made all the difference. After white supremacists were outnumbered in Shelbyville, they canceled the protest on the square in Murfreesboro. Now, it is our job to continue addressing the less in-your-face racism that permeates our individual minds and man-made systems.
As we marched down a long sidewalk to Church Street, Rev. Jackson Henry led us in a song he wrote:
“There’s work to be done, y’all.
There’s work to be done. (x3)
God is in the work, y’all,
God is in the work.”
So let us keep working, believing and claiming that because this is God’s work, it is our Christian mandate to listen, discern, and allow our prayer to help us show up where the Spirit leads.
Rev. Sam McGlothlin