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United Methodists Participate in Peaceful Protests and Ministry of Presence, Part 2

In our previous edition of Newsnet, we shared how West Ohio United Methodists have been moved to participate in peaceful protests and in the ministry of presence. This week we complete our two-part series of the incredible witness of West Ohio leadership during tense, yet hopeful times of change.

Columbus Couple Blankets City in Prayer

In the parking lot of Wesley Church of Hope United Methodist Church, Columbus, you can find Myrissa Ferguson fervently praying beside her husband, the Rev. Charles Ferguson, and others gathered most evenings.

After conversations regarding the lack of accountability for the killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and watching protests in Columbus, Ferguson said, “My wife was so struck in her heart to do something. This was all my wife’s idea.”

Before the city placed a curfew on its residents, the Fergusons drove to church at 9 p.m. and prayed. Inviting others to join them, the Fergusons have been praying Monday through Saturday from 7 to 8 p.m. Using social media to go live has broadened the prayer circle.

Raised under the teaching of the late Rev. Charles E. Booth of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Columbus, Ferguson felt his call back to the black prophetic preaching tradition and bringing truth to power.

“We are no longer in a season where condolences and words will do,” he said. “My role in the movement as a believer is understanding proper teaching of the message of Jesus Christ. It makes no sense to teach of a Jesus that is weak. Everything about him was strong. That reality of Jesus Christ gives energy.”

As the lead pastor of Wesley Church of Hope and Clair United Methodist churches, Ferguson believes in preparation through prayer over all situations. All leaders are not called to march, protest and be on the front lines, he contends. Others are called and anointed to do the sacred work of prayer.

Prayers have been raised for the Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, the protestors and the families of the deceased and for equity. “This is a time for equity", Ferguson said. “We can’t rectify what’s broken until we acknowledge the system is broken.”

Many protests continue throughout Columbus and surrounding communities. Some changes have happened along the way, while others are yet to come. All the while, the Fergusons believe Jesus Christ will show up. They have already seen what can happen when people pray.

“If we don’t handle this spiritually,” Ferguson said, “it will go by the wayside, and in 60 years, it will be the same.”

With the faith and tenacity of the Fergusons, leading and covering Columbus and beyond in prayer, a change is sure to be seen.

Columbus Pastor Runs to Honor Ahmaud Arbery

Running is not new to the Rev. F. Willis Johnson. For years, running has been his time to process thoughts, pray and talk to God.

After a black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was killed while out for his run, social media called for runners to run 2.23 miles to honor Arbery’s life on his birthday. Willis joined other runners and after each run, posted pictures on Facebook with the hashtag #IRunwithAhmaud.

“It brought back what I did in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was slain,” Johnson said. “I often ran from my house to the site Brown was killed, which is close to the same distance of 2.23 miles we are running now.”

While serving in Ferguson, Johnson helped a community heal after Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in 2014. The officer was later not found guilty of a crime.

No stranger to protesting a cause by marching, Johnson has found an act of resistance in running.

When he ran in Ferguson, his effort was personal. “This time,” he noted, “I made it  a public witness. It was 74 days between Arbery’s shooting and the first set of arrests. I am going to run until we have some justice.” He will continue to run to keep out front the fatalities of black, brown and other-ed people to gun violence by police officers.

“I get encouraged when I run,” Johnson said. “Running with the Black Lives Matter resistance makes people see me.” He believes that people of color are sometimes not perceived as human.

Johnson is lead pastor of Living Tree Church in Columbus and author of, “Holding up your Corner: Talking about Race in Your Community.”

“There is a myriad of ways we can make a statement,” he said. “I won’t tell you what to do.” Not seeing a need to insert himself in the protests happening in downtown Columbus, Johnson understands people need to find their expression and to do something. Running is his way to show protest and resistance.

The question each of us should ask is, he continued, is, “Where in your life do you make Black Lives Matter?”

Ohio River Valley D.S., Pastor Witness for Justice

On Monday, June 1, the Rev. Todd Anderson requested prayer from his colleagues for a protest he was attending that afternoon. Anderson, district superintendent of the Ohio River Valley, along with the Rev. David Meredith of Clifton United Methodist Church, attended a youth rally for Black Lives Matter in downtown Cincinnati.

One week before, on Memorial Day, a Minneapolis police officer had arrested George Floyd, a black man, for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. After handcuffing Floyd, the officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Three other officers were present. After begging for mercy, Floyd became unresponsive and was later pronounced dead. After a video showing the incident went viral and yielded no accountability, protests erupted throughout the nation.

When they arrived at the youth rally, Anderson and Meredith observed their surroundings. Outside the justice center, they saw “about 100 people” who had been arrested. The justice center was full. There were no restroom facilities available outside for those held on the lawn.

The clergy further recognized the lack of planning for the youth event. “There is an etiquette to protests,” Anderson said. Learning from the seasoned protestors who were in the crowd, Anderson and Meredith witnessed the evolution of the youth being organized by the experienced protestors. Protest etiquette is not only about the protest itself. It also includes having lawyers and bail money because protestors expect to be arrested.

At the end of the protest, clergy were called to kneel in front of the protestors for eight minutes and 46 seconds. While kneeling, Anderson saw a car driving toward the line in his direction. Not sure of what was happening, he was relieved when the driver slammed on his breaks and shouted, “Black Lives Matter!”

Attending the protest was not the end for Anderson. In an email sent to members of his district, he charged leaders with choosing and doing one anti-racist activity and reporting results to the district meeting.

Asked why he went to the youth protest, Anderson said, “I wanted to do something. I wanted to be a physical witness and to be engaged in crying out for justice.”