On the Street
On Palm Sunday about 50 people gathered at St. Stephen's to walk the streets of Wilmington.
We were a mixed group: representatives from several of the Wilmington-area Lutheran churches, and a large group from the Delaware-Maryland Synod's Racial Justice Ministry Team. The Synod team does an urban walk every Palm Sunday, but typically in the Baltimore area. This year, the Bishop and the ministry team made the trip to Wilmington to support our first urban walk.
We started with a healing service at St. Stephen's. There is something truly wonderful about having a person's hands on you as they pray: "I lay hands on you in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord beseeching him to uphold you in his grace and mercy so you may know his healing and redeeming love."
Most of the Baltimore group was delayed by a traffic accident, but they had arrived soon after the service ended, and it was time to hit the streets.
As summarized in the synod's weekly e-letter:
“...participants stepped out to visit various sites throughout the community. Some places provide services to the people of Wilmington, like Lutheran Community Services or the YMCA. Some are places of faith that help the community move forward to live out its call to seek justice, like Trinity Episcopal Church/Iglesia Trinidad and St. Joseph's Catholic Church. And some places, like Rodney Square, where protests were held in 2015 following the shooting death of Jeremy McDole by police, reminded participants of the work that still needs to be done to fully realize justice for all, whether around the corner or around the world.
While reflecting on the walk, Pastors Jason Churchill and Melissa Lemons (Zion, Wilmington) both remarked that they had overheard people saying that it helped them see Wilmington in a new light - from learning about the lives of the people who live in the YMCA's low-income housing units to seeing institutions as tools for fighting injustice or allowing it to stand. Along this one-mile stretch of the city, participants saw the interconnected nature of racial justice, economic justice, educational access, housing, the criminal justice system, the wider legal system, access to social services, and cultural enrichment. And along the way, the people of Wilmington saw the witness of people of faith who were willing to step into the surrounding community and learn about their neighbors for the sake of seeking justice.”
Along the way, many of us had the opportunity to speak to people on the streets.
At Luther Towers, there was a woman who stayed away from the group as they prayed, but she was clearly watching it. I went over to talk with her and explain what we were doing. What had caught her attention were the palms. She hadn't been able to get to church that morning because of work, so she wondered if we had a palm we could give her. We did. As the march continued, several went over to share palms with those sitting outside Luther Towers.
I talked with one gentleman who lives in the neighborhood. He has occasionally attended worship at St. Stephen's. He hadn't come that morning, because he was afraid it would be a three-hour worship service, which he remembered from his childhood. I laughed and told him we don't three-hour services. "But didn't you read the passion?" he asked. Yes, I told him, but we skipped the sermon!
At Rodney Square palms were given to people in the square, including a woman with several children. She started to walk away, but then heard what Pr. Eric Campbell from Baltimore was saying. She stopped to listen, because, she told me, it was the truth. We chatted about what we were doing. She wanted to know how often we did this. (Maybe we should do it more?) She said she was interested in having her children grow up in a church. We gave her the bulletin from our walk and contact information for St. Stephen's. I hope we hear from her. I'm more glad that we put ourselves out in the public so that we were where she was, rather than waiting for her to come to us.
Rodney Square was eye-opening for some participants. They noticed people lingering, perhaps suspiciously. They noticed them quickly depart when a security person showed up. Maybe I was looking elsewhere, maybe I just don’t see those kinds of things anymore. I forget that this is an unusual place for many, even those who live in the Wilmington area, but rarely venture downtown.
As we prepared to return to St. Stephen’s, we heard the words from Philippians 1:3-6, 9-10:
I thank my God every time I think of you. In every prayer I utter, as I plead on your behalf, I rejoice in the way you have continually helped promote the Good News from the very first day. And I am sure of this much: that God, who has begun the good work in you, will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus…My prayer is that your love may abound more and more, both in understanding and in wealth of experience, so that with a clear conscience and blameless conduct you may learn to value the things that really matter, up to the very day of Christ.
It was a wonderful event. Thanks to all who participated. Thanks to all who witnessed to others on the streets.
- Ann Warner
(St. Stephen’s Holy Week services will be held at 7:15 pm on Thursday and Friday, and 7:45 pm on Saturday. There will be a community breakfast on Sunday starting at 8:30
am, with worship at 10 am.)