There’s a little nip in the wind today, even while the sun is shining brightly, as autumn announces her presence among us.
Last night some of us gathered together– mostly over Facebook’s livestream– to listen more about the history of our county, as it pertains to racism and slavery. Bryan Thompson told us stories of the slaves who were first brought here in the early 19th century– of the buildings they constructed, and the men who owned them. Did you know that Ford Street in Ogdensburg is named after a wealthy slave owner? Or that Judson Street in Canton is similarly named?
He also told us about the brave Black men who preached freely in our county in the 19th century (mostly in Free Baptist churches); and that of all the larger towns in the area, Potsdam was one of the few that wouldn’t run you out of town for being an abolitionist. We learned that in the 1820s the minister in our congregation preached from the pulpit about the sin of slavery, and in 1837 our church forged ahead (against popular sentiment) to establish the Anti-Slavery Society in Potsdam.
I am glad to know that fighting against racial inequality is part of our church’s history. It means we’re continuing to carry the torch that our ancestors once held.
We also learned about the courage of those Black freedom seekers, who defied the laws of men and their own fears of violence and brutality, to seek their God-given right to being human– how they snuck under heavy loads of hay in hay wagons, hid out in people’s homes, and walked long stretches of wilderness as they headed towards the St. Lawrence river, and eventually to freedom in Canada.
We also heard a few words from Dr. John Youngblood, and a final word from Jen Baxtron, the leader of the Black Lives Matter movement in the North Country. Both conveyed to listeners that the violence and brutality that Black people lived with in the days of slavery are not something that existed exclusively in the past. Each spoke of the intimidation, fear, and threats of violence that hover over the Black community in America today, and particularly in the North Country. And Dr. Youngblood encouraged us, as a primarily white audience, to consider that our work of helping to establish a safe and peaceful existence for Black folk is not yet over.
I don’t know about you, but by the end I left with a renewed sense of dedication to continuing on with our church’s tradition of seeking racial justice in the world.
In like manner, I left with a renewed awareness of how hard the pandemic is on all of us. It saddened me greatly that I could not see your faces out in the audience last night, and it frustrated me with how hard it is to figure out the technological bugs that always jump up when you’re trying something for the first time. I know that on your end of the screen, the problems we were having with sound must have been irritating. I’m thankful for your patience though– all of us are doing the best we can in the moment we have before us, aren’t we?
Speaking of which– how are you doing in these moments before us? Was this week any easier than the one before? How is your stamina holding up? I am struggling with exhaustion right now. It takes more energy to get through a normal day, doesn’t it? And that extra spent energy is then not available for dealing with the challenges and problems that always arise. Do you get grumpy when you are frustrated and tired? I’ve been a bit snarly lately, I’m afraid.
When I get this way, I know I need to pull out Psalm 46, and breathe in the words:
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult….
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
May the refuge of God find you this week. May the strength of God go before you. And may the rest of God comfort you.
Keep breathin’ (even on your snarly days),
p.s. I hope to see you this Sunday at noon for coffee hour out on the lawn. Bring a jacket, your mask, a lawn chair, and perhaps a knit cap for if your ears get cold– it will be sunny, but the high for the day is only 58.