A Pastoral Letter: Pentecost 2020

SUNDAY, May 31, 2020

Dear Members and Friends of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta

Today we mark the day when the breath of God blew on the apostles, giving them new life as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On Pentecost Sunday we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, which draws us together and empowers us to proclaim, in word and in deed, God’s plan of reconciling all people in the name of Christ. (Ephesians 1:10)

But this Pentecost, even as we mark the coming of the Holy Spirit and the breath that gave birth to the church, we cannot ignore the last words of George Floyd: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Please stop. I can’t breathe.” We cannot stop thinking about George Floyd. We cannot stop thinking about Ahmaud Arbery. We cannot stop thinking about Breonna Taylor. We shudder to think of what could easily have happened to Christian Cooper. We cannot stop thinking about the countless others, video-recorded and not, whose names and stories and deaths didn’t make the news. Countless others who have suffered untimely and unjust deaths. We cannot turn away or forget. We must hear our neighbors who are crying out and we must use our breath—the very breath we have received as a gift from God—to break the chokehold of systemic racism.

To every black and brown member of this congregation, and to this community and city we share: we confess that we are part of sinful and broken systems that hurt you. We confess that we have perpetuated bias and prejudice. We confess this in our own lives and in our ministries. We repent of the superiority and hate we have harbored, and we prostrate ourselves before the Lord who requires us, in the words of the prophet Micah, “to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.” We know we have work to do. We know that we have to listen and learn. And we know that in order for there to be real change in our world, we must share the struggle for justice as our own and stand up even when we are scared and even when it comes at a cost.

To every member of this church: as your pastors, we reject indifference (“It’s not my problem”), we reject our quick claims of innocence (“I’m not a racist”), and we reject willful helplessness (“I can’t do anything”) when it comes to racism in our lives, our ministries, the church we love, our city and nation. We commit to doing the work we need to do to become anti-racist. We commit to being an ally and partner in the work for racial justice and racial equity. And we hope you will join us.

One small and immediate step we are taking is to participate in the 21-Day Race Equity Challenge. Our brothers and sisters at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC have created this self-guided educational and formation experience and have shared it outside their congregation. It is an opportunity to engage different voices and perspectives—a time to read, watch, listen, and learn. It is a time for self-examination and honesty. It is a time to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, to be remade as vessels for God’s love and reconciliation. We have each committed to participate in the challenge and we invite you to join us. Simply click on the link and follow the instructions on their website.

We have no illusions that all will be changed immediately or that the change the world needs is within our power alone. But today we take one step toward that change, standing as friends. We commit to bearing the burdens our brown and black neighbors must carry all the time—fear, violence, weariness, anger, and despair. We commit to standing up. And since we know that we will stumble, we will make mistakes, we will get discouraged and our energy will flag, we stand before God, asking to be filled once again with the breath of life. We will pray each day as we do today—come, Holy Spirit, come.

In the Name of the God Who Makes All Things New,

Rev. Dr. Joanna Adams, Former Interim Pastor

Rev. Leigh Bonner, Director of Global Mission

Rev. Jamie Butcher, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Formation

Rev. Dr. Chris Holmes, Stembler Scholar in Residence and Director of Biblical and Theological Education

Rev. Rebekah LeMon, Executive Pastor

Rev. Rob Sparks, Associate Pastor for Care

Rev. Katie Sundermeier, Parish Visitor

Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier, Senior Pastor

Rev. Keith Thompson, Associate Pastor for Young Adults and Youth Formation

Rev. Dr. George Wirth, Pastor Emeritus