We are children of this community who now serve congregations as Lead Pastors. Both of us came of age in the 1980s, a time of painful transformation in Lima. Bryan graduated from Lima Senior High School. Lamont graduated from Perry High School. Both of us have had multiple opportunities to pastor elsewhere in larger communities, serving what others in our respective denominations would consider more “prestigious” congregations.
We continue to make the choice to stay here.
Our paths first crossed 13 years ago during one of the darkest times in our community. It was the tragic death of Tarika Wilson, a 26-year-old mother who was killed at the hands of a Lima police officer executing a no-knock warrant at the 3rd Street residence where she resided. We were a part of a quickly assembled ecumenical group of pastors from Lima and the surrounding areas. The purpose of the group was to “seek justice.” However, it ended up being nothing more than gatherings of Palm Sunday feel-good services and weekly luncheons that bore no fruit for social justice.
With almost 50 years of ministry between us in Lima, we have participated in countless gatherings of all kinds dedicated to the cause of “racial reconciliation.” Lunches, coffees, prayer meetings, worship services, study circles, picnics, lectures by “experts”…. we’ve done them all. We’ve also built cross-racial friendships with clergy. All of these efforts were done in the name of creating “change.”
Most of this work — if we’re honest — didn’t lead to much. In fact, we have come to the realization that it has had the opposite effect. Drinking coffee while listening to our respective experiences was nice, but the experience was and still is inadequate to accomplish the real work of rooting out institutionalized racism. In fact, we’ve now concluded that this type of work largely leads to “warm fuzzies” that pacify discontent, instead of spur that urges us to take action for reform. The true cost of these endless cups of coffee has been an entire population of people who continue to suffer the indignity of an unchanging status quo.
It’s only by the grace of God that Lima, Ohio, has somehow avoided becoming the next Ferguson or Minneapolis. For after 13 years of largely unrealized “change,” we’re not sure the same efforts of what was largely the Lima Area Black Ministerial Association to “kept the peace” after Tarika Wilson’s death, would have the same effect if such a tragedy occurred now.
In addition to George Floyd, recent tragedies took the lives of a black Louisville EMT in the middle of the night while she was asleep in her own bed. In another fatal incident, a young black Georgia man jogging in daylight was shot dead. None of these three unarmed people deserved to die violently. As clergy we must not only denounce these killings, but we must once and for all address the systemic racism, injustice, pain and rage that plagues our community.
We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the growing awareness that communities of color have borne a disproportionate burden of severe poverty, substandard housing conditions, food deserts, illness and death. Going forward our efforts must move beyond feel-good symbolism to specific, quantifiable goals we can track and measure. We must dismantle the system of structural racism by identifying the policies that perpetuate the system and propose new policies that will have positive racial impacts.
When we look at the story of Job we see his desire to live a righteous and upright life. However, when we examine him more closely there is one sin often overlooked. Job continually sought the Lord on his children’s behalf with offerings and prayer. While this is good and worthy of recognition, we see no communication with God on behalf of those outside of his circle of family and friends. Excluding moments of crisis when we’ve frantically organized, our clergy and congregations, like Job, have largely been consumed with looking out for themselves without real concern for others. A sin, we might add, those closest to Job ended up paying.
Colleagues, the price is too high for “ministry as usual.” It’s time for real change.
So in closing, we invite our fellow clergy to skip the next coffee or lunch, and instead use that time to do one or all of the following:
• Go advocate for body cameras for our sheriff’s department at a county commissioners meeting.
• Organize a campaign of continued letter writing, protests, and demonstrations at the city building until the personnel of the Lima Police Department is as diverse as it’s Fire Department.
• Lead your congregation in stumping for levies, or re-imagined city or county budgets, that would expand the availability of drug treatment, mental health services, and funding for children’s services and housing developments.
• If collectively our subject-matter for our sermons somehow helped create the will to build a larger juvenile detention center, let us refocus our preaching to help create the will for a state-of-the-art community center or “Boys and Girls Club.”
• Make your voices heard so that the “Human Relations Commission” you’ve read about is a force to be reckoned with when they review discriminatory policies and practices with respect to questionable action by local police, the county jail, conduct of our prosecutors, or the sentencing record of our local judges.
Scripture plainly states that whatever we ask, it will be given unto us, and whatever we seek we will find. But to do this, Jesus taught us to align ourselves to do the Lord’s will on earth, so it manifests like it does in heaven.
And what is it that God desires? Act justly, offer mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord.
With that clear mission it’s time to stop avoiding speaking the hard truths of who is bearing the brunt of our inaction to our congregations to keep our pews and collection plates filled. Those at-risk in our community can no longer afford to wait for us to do the real work demanding justice while we sit in a circle, holding hands, singing “Kumbaya.” Jesus once wept over his city because it refused to embrace the way of peace. Let’s not give him cause to weep over ours.
. Jesus once wept over his city because it refused to embrace the way of peace. Let’s not give him cause to weep over ours.
Bryan Bucher is currently in his 10th year serving Shawnee United Methodist Church in Lima as Lead Pastor. Dr. Brian LaMont Monford Sr. has been the lead pastor at Philippian Missionary Baptist Church in Lima for 29 years.