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Traci Blackmon believes growth is a church’s reach

At a time when the country is growing more unchurched, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister of justice and local church ministries for the national UCC, reported to those at the PNC-UCC Annual Meeting April 28 to 30 in Bellingham, that in 2022 the national UCC had 747,000 members in 4,735 churches.

Traci Blackmon says justice requires endless effort and grace.

“We add new churches every year, but have lost more members than we’ve gained,” she said, asserting, “the power of the church is not defined in numbers.”

“Megachurches are not a thing in the Bible,” she said. “We do our best work in community. Our power is not a measured by the number of people gathered in pews but by the impact of those who scatter.

“Rumors of a dying church are overrated. Scripture says the church will not die,” Traci said, telling of her whirlwind of visits to UCC churches.

• In Chicago, she was with people in the Afro Christian Church stream of the UCC, which “has hidden stories we need to tell.”

• Before that, she met with leaders in Wisconsin, a state where 800 business partners decided it was good business to have diversity and formed theOne Wisconsin Campaign.

• In DC, Traci met with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, in  which she is lead plaintiff of 14—with three in the UCC—in Traci Blackmon vs the state of Missouri, a case on the attack on the rights of women to have control over their bodies.

• The next day, she was lobbying Senators. Whether R or D, she calls for advocating for being a just society, aware of the “impact of ideology chasms of polarization on congregations and society.

“Since Jan 25, some states have introduced 150 laws to restrict voting laws and make it harder to register and stay on the rolls, particularly for the poor and people of color,” she said. “There was no voter fraud, so the legislation is not solving a problem. Its purpose is to intimidate voters to fear voting.”

• She is also concerned about laws to impede rights for LGBTQ and trans youth, the right for womeon and families to make decisions about reproduction and laws banning books and drag queens but not school shooters.

“We are divided,” she said, like when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter from the Birmingham Jail to white clergy to call them to unity, despite the hate they had expressed in a letter because they did not want the change King was bringing.

“Their actions were driven by what the cost of change would be rather than what change could bring,” Traci said. “Change did come and change is yet to come.”

Traci then turned focus to delegates saying “the journey to justice does not start with proclamation protest or revolution. It starts with seeing one another.” She invited delegates to spend a few minutes actively listening to each other.

“We are starved for human attention. If we are listening we are not forming our response or figuring how our stories fits in their story,” she said inviting attendees to discuss their hopes for their time together.

She then invited people to notice who was present and who was not: “Who is not here? Why are they not here?”

Traci recalled the 1967 film, “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?” about the daughter of a well-to-do white family introducing her fiance, a black well-to-do doctor. Interracial marriage was illegal in most states until then. It presents a taboo about who is at the table and who is not.

“The table is not where we say grace but where we extend grace,” Traci offered as a challenge to a united, uniting church, to a conference with the theme, “Loving Deeply.”  “Tables are important in human narrative. They were where we share wisdom and culture, mark identity. What does our eating company say about us?”

She called attention to who is invited to the table and who is not, who has the authority to invite and who does not.

“Tables are places of power and division. They are central to community building,” she said.

Traci pointed out that the Hebrew word for justice is Tzedek. It means righteousness—not in the sense of super holy, doing no wrong, but in the sense of being in right relationship with the Creator and Creation.”

After the senseless killing of Michael Brown Jr and too many young blacks—Emmet Till, Trayvon Martin and the list goes on—the call for law enforcement to be more responsible was met with rage.

Traci was among citizens who sat at tables for nine months of conversation and collaboration on a way to move forward in Ferguson. They came seek peace, but there are different interpretations of peace—controlling others, the absence of conflict or don’t stir the pot.

“I travel representing the denomination in which 84 percent of the people do not look like me, but I am at home,” she said. “I acknowledge that if you knew I was coming and you showed up, you want things to be better because despite our differences we are of one heart.

“Silence will not save us,” Traci said. “Peace is the presence of justice, and justice necessitates conflict.”

“We were at a table that was so long it included Palestinian and Brazilian young people who came to Ferguson to teach young people there how to protect themselves from tear gas and to know what hand symbols mean, because U.S. police go to Israel to be trained.

“Common tables form around injustice and need include both sides. We need mediation tables so we can come to agree and eat,” she said.

Traci was among the clergy who went out different nights. At 10 p.m., she was ready to go home, but committed to stay until the protesters left the street. Then Katherine Daniels, Mama Kat, came, a woman with a street ministry of feeding people.

Traci feared there would be confrontation of youth and overworked, tired police, but Mama Kat came with free food. She drove her truck through the barrier across from the police station. She and her spouse pulled out four church tables, dressed them with linen and set out chafing dishes, pots and disposable plates and utensils.  She took a megaphone and invited protestors and police, “Y’all come and eat.”

“It was the greatest communion,” Traci said, realizing that Jesus fed people, nourishing them physically and spiritually, inviting the poor, crippled, lame and blind. Traci invited people to consider how they practice hospitality in churches, schools, state houses and their homes to break through theological barriers and moral barriers.

“Jesus first says, ‘Peace be with you,’ when the disciples are fearful and disoriented,” she said. “Tables give hope in the midst of horror.”

Instead of lamenting days gone by, she called for families to shape relationships to build the community they want to remember now.

“Work for justice is what our denomination has done and will continue to do,” she said, quoting Coretta Scott King saying the struggle for justice is a “never-ending stuggle” for every generation.

 “When we remove barriers, it takes time to see clearly,” said Traci, inviting people to stay at tables even when they are uncomfortable.

“Representation and diversity are not justice, only box of different colors of crayons,” she said. “If we measure anti-racism by color we are in trouble. Anti-racism work is not about making sure we see blackness of people but making sure we see whiteness.

“Whether we are white, black, brown or just a color, we need to open tables, forgive ourselves, know we will work on forever and commit to work for justice together.”

She invited people to learn more about how to be anti-racist at the website: jointhemovement/ That movement invites people not just to show up in the street but to have strategies for the prolonged need to protest.

Later, preaching for the Saturday worship service, she said that as a child of the South, her great grandmother, who never went to school, sang, prayed and went to church with Traci, teaching her never to be ungrateful.

“Peter reminds me of the unapologetic passion and imperfection of those of us who time to time mess up,” she said.

In spite of his promise and potential, Peter made huge mistakes. He denies he knows Jesus three times.  Peter gets three chances and stumbles over the same issue again and again, Traci said. His heart wants to do what is right, but his mind and body want to do different.

“Guilty conscience can ruin relationships,” she said. “The Bible calls us to confess what we try to hide holds us back from fear we messed up.

Peter wrestles with a guilty conscience.

The angel who met the woman at the tomb told her to tell the disciples and Peter that there can still be mercy after they mess up – joy after broken heart. Redemption is possible for everyone and Peter.

“What Jesus desires for Peter is love, life giving,  hope fulled grace,” she said.
“The good news is that in the midst of cancel culture and in spite of failure, God still wants us to belong to him.

“God wants us not to be defined by our past mistakes but by our present potential,” she said.

“We are to be accountable, atone and find our way back to at-oneness. New hope is possible,” Traci said, aware people may abandon racial healing  because words cause wounds leaving people a hostage to failures.

“The promise of God is true. We need the moral courage to tell the truth to save selves, others and planet,” she said. “There is no reconciliation without facing our failures.”

She closed with words of a hymn that “God calls us to build a house where all can safely live, where hearts learn to forgive and where the love of Christ will end divisions so all are welcome.

For information, call news director Connie Larkman at 216-736-2196 or visit


Pacific Northwest Conference Summer United Church News copyright © June 2023


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