Our Purpose and Mission Statement

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We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Remembering Africville in Nova Scotia

Mark 1: 9-15

Jong Bok Kim at Glen Rhodes UC, Feb. 26, 2012

You teach us your paths, O God.  You lead us in your truth. You are steadfast in your love for us, and merciful in welcoming and sustaining us. May we be strengthened to walk with you on this Lenten journey.  Amen.

 Last week, I was privileged to attend our UCW meeting.  I felt privileged not because I was the only man in the gathering, but because I learned a lot about the life and work of our UCW.  Initially, I was drawn to this meeting by the announcement that a guest speaker would address Black History Month.   As I expected, the presentation of the speaker, Ms. Allda Arthur, from “Women of Promise,” a women’s organization, was educational and informative.  

Before the presentation, our UCW reported on many topics like their work with other sister organizations, regional and national UCW events and their financial contribution to the Presbytery.  They also discussed the preparation for the World Day of Prayer, an ecumenical worship event organized by women’s groups around the world each year.  This year, our congregation is honoured to host this event in our sanctuary this Friday afternoon at 2 o’clock.  Our UCW will share the leadership with other women from neighbouring faith communities.  Every one is welcome to this service. 

Hearing about what our UCW had been doing recently, I was impressed at the wide range of their work and the depth of their commitment, not to mention their ongoing contributions to our Food Bank and Drop-in programme.  They are a small group of women, but mighty. 

Further, I was also impressed with their organizational skills.  When they finished the meeting with a prayer, I looked at the clock on the wall.  It had taken only forty minutes including the special presentation.  And then, they were happy to gather around a table for refreshments and more conversation.  They are not only mighty, but also wise.  They are women of wisdom.  If anyone of you are interested in learning how to organize a church meeting more efficiently, I encourage you to go to our UCW meetings and learn from them.  

On the other hand, I was humbled by our UCW’s choice of topic and way of organizing it.  They wanted to celebrate Black History Month together with the neighbouring black community.  They invited Allda to speak about it and extended the invitation to her friends.  So, our UCW was joined by more black women from the neighbourhood that day. The meeting was held in the Barbara Christie Room, but their celebration went well beyond that small room.

That meeting inspired me to mark Black History Month today.  February is the shortest month in the year and yet we have many special services in February. We move from the church season of Epiphany to Lent with Transfiguration Sunday in between.  Glen Rhodes United observes two Sundays particular to us, Sensuous Sunday and the Anniversary of our becoming an Affirming Congregation.  However, regardless of these traditional events, Alda opened to us serious reasons for celebrating Black History Month. 

Allda was soft spoken, but her message was powerful: Black history is everyone’s history! It is not just about what happened to the black people in slavery in the States.  It is about the real stories of black communities in Canada, how they suffered from discrimination for generations and yet, how many became courageous enough to stand up to and overcome the injustice and contribute to the continuing transformation of the lives of all Canadians today.

During her presentation, Allda mentioned briefly the demolition of the historic Africville in Halifax.  She grew up in another part of Nova Scotia, so she was not part of Africville, but she knew clearly what that community meant to black people in Nova Scotia.  As the term Africville was entirely new to me, after the meeting, I spent some time searching the web and was rewarded with the volume of documentation about it.

According to the historical sources, Africville certainly did not start off as a slum. At the turn of the last century, it was a community of young, hard-working people with much potential.
Its history can be traced back to 1800 when descendants of American slaves settled on the northern edge of Halifax. It was initially known as Campbell Road but, because of its black population, it was quickly dubbed Africville.  

Throughout its history, the people who lived in Africville were confronted with racial isolation. The community was not, then or ever, serviced with proper roads, health services, water, street lamps or electricity. Instead all it received from the city was an open dump, an incinerator, a prison, railway tracks and a slaughterhouse on its doorstep. The impoverished conditions of Africville became a source of deep shame for the City of Halifax so city officials decided to demolish it. They ordered all the residents to leave by 1967.  The Africville residents were stunned to learn they had to move; some of the families had lived there for 150 years.

A CBC video clip captured angry Africville residents protesting the eviction order.  In the video, a resident made it clear who was responsible for the deplorable living conditions in Africville; the city had made it a slum and now labeled it a scar on the face of the city.  A question by a CBC reporter, a white man, in the same clip was insensitive too, “Why don’t you just move to a better place to live?”  The resident raised his voice, “Where?  This is my place.  This is my home.  I grew up here and my children still play here.  Why should I move?” 

The actual relocation took place mainly between 1964 and 1967. The residents were assisted in their move by the city, but the city literally moved the Africville residents by the city dump trucks. This image forever stuck in the minds and hearts of those residents and clearly illustrated how badly these people were treated before, during and after the move.

Part of Africville is now occupied by a highway interchange. Having faced numerous protests and much criticism, the city of Halifax created Seaview Memorial Park to preserve the site from further development and placed a sundial monument with the list of the founding families.  In 2002, the federal government declared Africville a national historic site. This official recognition came 35 years after Halifax officials razed the community in the name of "urban renewal," uprooting its 400 residents.

 The story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness for 40 days is always the gospel story told on the first Sunday of Lent. Mark’s account is very brief, only two verses long, and he ties the temptation directly to Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus hears the affirmation, “You are my own dear son,” and immediately is faced with the implications of such awareness. It compels him to head out into the wilderness to sort things out.

Lent is a time for self-examination— for checking our focus and sorting out our priorities. We reflect on God’s promises, God’s covenant with us, and recognize our failure to live up to our part of the relationship. It is time for confession, seeking God’s guidance. It is time for struggle and renewal of our commitment. It is time for beginning over again. 

February is Black History or African Heritage Month in Canada, a time to remember the struggles and sufferings of black brothers and sisters across the country.  It is also a time to honour the historical and present contributions of peoples of African descent. This month could also be a time when we as a congregation make a commitment to become more culturally sensitive, racially inclusive and justice-conscious. 

As part of our celebration of Black History Month today, I would like to invite you to join me in the Litany for Black History Month found in our bulletin on page 3.

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