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UCC leader leads church conversation on racism

On Oct. 28 and 29, Velda Love, UCC minister of racial justice for Faithful Action Ministries, led “A Sacred Conversation on Racism” for 61 members United Churches of Olympia. 

Through lecture, videos, music and body work, she invited participants to join black and brown siblings in a journey of liberation and restorative justice with Join the Movement, said Marcia McLaughlin of the Uprooting Racism Team of United Churches of Olympia.

Velda told how this journey started 500 years ago and how people of African descent and indigenous people became enslaved or were killed through the European-Christian Doctrine of Discovery. 

“Not only did she tell about the generational trauma that black and brown bodies carry, but also she guided us in activities that support our being ‘in our own bodies’, to feel trauma in our bodies,” said Marcia. “We learned about policies across the fin

Lara Crutsinger-Perry, pastor at the United Churches of Olympia, visits with Velda Love of the national UCC after worship Sunday, Oct. 28.     Photos courtesy of United Churches

ancial, legal, education and religious structures that continue to support the dehumanization of black and brown bodies.

“Through conversation and relationship building, we became a community within this congregation who can support each other in doing the work of dismantling these racist systems and structures,” Marcia continued. “We began developing the means to implement a counter narrative that can transform our individual identity and the church in becoming a more inclusive and just culture. 

The weekend was completed with Velda preaching on Sunday morning, a sermon on “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” 

One congregant, who had not attended the workshop, said after the service “something new is happening here.”

Ellen Swetin joins Karen Watts, left, Matt Raron and Wendy Taylor in a discussion group as part of weekend workshop with Velda Love of national UCC on racism.

Within a few days of this workshop, the United Churches wrote a letter to the Olympia School Board, supporting the appointment of the first person of African descent to the school board. The appointment had resulted in racist push back from portions of the community.  

“Our plans are to move forward to involve more of our congregation in the conversation and to continue to respond as needed to events in our community—to be first responders,” said Marcia.

“Based on our experience, we encourage churches in this conference to Join the Movement Toward Racial Justice,” said Marcia, and ask Velda Love for help. 

“She moved us into a lifelong commitment to dismantle racism in our church and our community,” Marcia affirmed.

During worship that Sunday, member Kathleen Clark told of forming the Uprooting Racism Team two years ago to look strategically at all structures, ministries, committees, staff, clergy, communications and music to see where the United Churches “might transform ourselves to be more racially justice and inclusive.”

The team introduced an “equity decision-making tool” for planners and decision-makers to use to assure inclusivity as they make and revise decisions and plans so they respect all.

“We knew that to do this work we needed to look at our internal biases, how we walk through the day and how we may be complicit in racial injustice,” Kathleen said.

The Sacred Conversations Working Group at United Churches of Olympia includes, front from left Marcia McLaughlin, Karen Conover, Kathleen Clark and Jan Van Pelt. In the back row from the left are Peggy Smith, Velda Love, Lara Crutsinger-Perry, Eleanor van Noppen, Jude Van Buren, and Paul McCann.                           

Because the team recognized the church needed input from the wider church community “to start the journey of internal reflection and to transform our church,” they planned the weekend which concluded with Velda preaching.

For several months, Velda worked with team members to prepare for the weekend of challenging conversations on ending racism and how racism has impacted the nation for 500 years.

As she began her sermon, Velda offered praise and prayers for saints in her life who grounded her identity as a woman of African descent and her faith in Jesus who walks with her. She is grateful for her matrilineal Nigerian ancestors who were Yoruba and Hausa—free people—and for her bits of Middle Eastern, Indigenous and other heritages. 

On Sunday, she preached on “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” based on Luke 4:14-30 when Jesus announces he has come to preach the good news to the poor, release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus preached a dangerous sermons then and during Holy week when he challenged status quo ideas of the elites with ideas of racial equality, gender justice, human dignity and redistributing wealth, she said, likening the crucifixion to lynching tree branches crossed to display the human body for all to see to instill fear and subordination.

“In first century and modern era, many communities of color remember old, rugged trees that bore strange fruit. Those memories tell a story rooted in antiblackness and racism interwoven in the soils and structures of the U.S.,” Velda said, inviting people of faith to link the cross and lynching trees in the “Jim and Jane Crow” era. “The history of racial terrorism reminds us that black babies, children, women, and men, and Jewish and white abolitionists standing with black communities were brutally hung from trees as a form of crucifixion by white mobs in U.S. cities.”

She asked what happens in the soul and spirit of those who do not see God or humanity in people of black descent.

James Cone, author of the 2013 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, said the U.S. government refused to outlaw lynching for more than 100 years, and many white Protestant churches were silent.

Growing up in Trinity UCC in Chicago, Velda’s pastor, Otis Moss, instilled in her the history of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer. This church grounded her reality, as did hearing “dangerous sermons” from Martin Luther King Jr. against racism, injustice and militarism before his assassination April 8, 1968.

The murder of George Floyd was an “opportunity for white America to realize racism is still with us. It had never gone away. It had gone underground.”  Seeing that murder stirred many to do something,” Velda said. “It doubled my workload with people wanting me to preach, teach and help build solidarity.

“Jesus’ Gospel undergirds and permeates truth telling rooted in of black and women’s liberation theologies. It is time to get serious about how we can use our bodies to uproot and face the empire,” she said.

Floyd’s murder opened many to hear the realities of life in communities of color across the world, she said, challenging the idea of any people, languages or cultures is dominant.

“God did not create any superior human being. God created humanity to be in relationship with one another and with God,” Velda said.

She urges churches to live up to their call to end racism and to see that, even after President Joe Biden signed the Anti-Lynching Law on March 29, lynching continues in choke holds, knees on necks, no-knock warrants, police shootings and policies, laws to eradicate historical truths, policies to erase cultures that helped build the nation and narratives to create solidarity among all people.

“Enough is enough! Stop the hate,” she asserted, calling for people to protect all bodies, ban assault weapons, advocating for voting rights, learn about individual and systemic racism and decolonize Christianity.

“Are we raising our children to embrace every human being on earth?” Velda asked.

“Now is the time, no more waiting, hiding or silence. God is speaking and now is the time to join the movement toward racial justice, the national UCC leader challenged.

The full service is on United Churches YouTube channel at

For information, call 360-789-9873 or email


 Winter Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News © December 2022


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