This past summer, as protests against racial injustice spread across the country, some members asked whether Annandale United Methodist Church could recognize and participate in this call for justice. Maybe, some thought, we could put up a Black Lives Matter sign. A group was formed to come up with an appropriate symbol of the church’s commitment to racial justice that was rooted in Jesus and the sacredness of all people, recognizing at the same time how far we fall from living into God’s dream for the world. The church could not, as Lay Leader Pam Jones says, “remain neutral and silent while injustice and systemic racism continue to reign.”
An early advocate for the church making a statement was Lavinia Odejimi, an African American member of Annandale who is keenly aware of the Christian church’s embrace through history of racism and injustice. From Slave Bibles to segregated sanctuaries, the White church has not stood for the equality of all people, and it did not often feel like Black Lives Matter. “It is time for all people of faith to make a stand that Black American lives matter just as much as White live, and all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter. The church should be working diligently to make change.”
A group was formed, who studied scripture and discussed the message we wanted to share, arriving at “Because Jesus Is Lord, Black Lives Are Sacred.” The group paired these words with scripture emphasizing justice, righteousness, and compassion. Church member Suzy Scollon, an artist, art teacher in FCPS, and parent of three teenage boys, was asked to oversee the design and execution of the project.
Suzy says she was honored to be asked to be part of the project. “It’s important for me personally to be aware of injustice happening around me, to be receptive and advocate for change in whatever way I can. I need to model for my boys that it is important to be cognizant of injustice and be a part of making positive change.”
The display is painted on five doors, each including part of the message, a scripture quotation, and a stained-glass motif. Each door is cradled in a large black easel.
The easels are large, black, and bold. They represent the strength, importance, and weight of the message, which is elevated and cradled on these giant easels.
The doors represent the action need to cross a threshold and change. They remind us that there is something better on the other side when we take action.
The stained glass is a symbol of the church. It is incorporated in the background to demonstrated that the church is behind this message.
The scripture passages were chosen to demonstrate the tradition of justice and compassion that runs through the Bible and reinforce the message of the display:
Because Jesus: “This is what the Lord Almighty has said: ‘Administer true justice, show mercy and compassion to one another.’ ” —Zechariah 7:9
Is Lord: “I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.” —Psalm 101:1
Black: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” —Matthew 5:6
Lives: “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” —Amos 5:24
Are Sacred: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” —Micah 6:8
Each morning, during Morning Prayer, those gathered pray the Prayer for Peace:
“O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near; grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Pam Jones reinforces this prayer. “As people of faith, people who call ourselves followers of Christ, we have work to do. The Church should be a leader in the pursuit of justice and refuse to remain silent when the sacredness of any lives is threatened.” This display represents Annandale United Methodist Church’s refusal to stay silent. Lavinia Odejimi hopes that the Black Lives Are Sacred display will demonstrate to the world that, at AUMC, we live into our belief that all people are created in the image of God.
Many thanks to all who helped make this possible. The youth of the church helped paint the doors, and many members contributed to making it possible by participating in the planning, acquiring doors, and building and painting easels, especially Dale Ruhter, Terri Ruhter, Eldon Hildebrand, John Clarke, Scott Fleming, and Mike Hoefer.
The planning team included David King, Lavinia Odejimi, Pam Jones, Suzy Scollon, Jason Micheli, and Dale Ruhter.
The display will be installed outside Door 2 until Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021. Please come immerse yourself in its powerful message.