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Walla Walla church begins to act on anti-racism statement

On June 10, Walla Walla First Congregational UCC published a statement on antiracism, nonviolence and police reform in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the rising concern about racism.

Nathaniel Mahlberg, pastor, is offering “Drive-by Blessings” at a safe social distance from 10 to 10:45 a.m., Sundays, as the “Masked Reverend.” He stands at the church’s parking lot entrance, wearing a face mask. Parishioners come by in their cars with family—wearing face masks and staying in their cars. In keeping with guidelines from Governor Jay Inslee and in consultation with medical professionals, he said, “We are committed to doing church in a safe and responsible way,” recognizing that things will not return to normal for a good while yet, and churches should not push to reopen.

Photo courtesy of  the Walla Walla First Congregational UCC website

“We involved many from the church leadership committees so we could have a robust conversation with voices to represent the church and engage in an honest way on racism,” said Nathaniel Mahlberg, pastor.

Church leaders signed it and shared it in the PNC as a model to inspire other churches to develop statements.

“We used a combination of Zoom meetings and email chains.  It was productive conversation, but was not at all easy,” he said.

One commitment from the process is to offer four six-week study groups beginning in October on “White Privilege: Let’s Talk,” the national UCC curriculum, which some members studied three years ago.

The course invites participants to consider next steps and commitments they can make.

“We have sent invitations to church members and beyond the church walls—which we don’t have now,” Nathaniel said. “I’m heartened by the interest in the community.”

He reported on engagement by church and community members with the police department and city council to address policies, procedures and budgeting.

“Protests continue and it’s significant how it is a sustained effort now of young activists of color, not the usual social movement folks,” he said.

Nathaniel has been involved with a series of virtual town halls with the city council on reforming policing.  He spoke at one.

“There have been modest reforms.  The police chief agreed to adopt some improvements in use of force, not all eight of the proposals.  He agreed to a conversation around differentiated call response, strengthening police response with social service response if armed police response is not necessary, as with homeless people or those suffering a mental health crisis.

“We will see how that develops.  There is promising engagement with growing crisis response capacity to reduce risk of violent escalation,” Nathaniel said. “We will see if the budget for police response will be reduced and redirected for other response.”

Town hall meetings also addressed concern about police officer Nat Small’s tattoo from his time as a Marine Scout Sniper, commemorating a friend killed in Afghanistan in 2010.  It includes a double lightning bolt “SS,” a symbol used by the German Nazis and now a neo-Nazi symbol. Marines denounced it in 2012. 

In June, a national civil rights organization, threatened to sue the city if the tattoo wasn’t removed or altered, or the officer removed from the police force.  A July 9 Union Bulletin article said the officer will remove the double S.

Nathaniel shared the church’s statement “Committing to Antiracism, Nonviolence and Police Reform”:

“As people of faith and disciples of Jesus, our community at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla stands with those struggling for racial justice who are speaking out about racism and White supremacy in our culture and institutions. We declare that Black lives matter.

“We share the grief over the violent death of George Floyd, and of many other unarmed Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who have died at the hands of those we entrust to provide fair and equal protection under the law. Our faith compels us to confront racism as a false idol and a force that crucifies.

“We know God’s grace, as a gift, is free, but not cheap. It calls us to a change of heart and of actions, seeing clearly the role of sin in ourselves and our society. We are humbled to acknowledge the sin of racism and White supremacy in ourselves, in our institutions and in our country’s living history. We seek, with God’s help and with the confidence that nothing truly separates any of us from the love of God, to do our part to overcome racism and heal injustices in our society.”

To that end, the statement expresses members’ commitment to:

• Better understand their White privilege and racism, and “address its subtle and overt manifestations in our church culture,” using the UCC curriculum on “White Privilege.”

• Support and respond to the leadership of Black and Brown people in the city and state as they develop policies to reduce the risk of police violence and increase democratic oversight and accountability.

• Find appropriate ways as a church to bring local police and political leaders into conversation with Walla Walla’s Black Lives Matter movement and Immigrant Rights Coalition, as they seek meaningful reforms and reconciliation.

• Seek peace and justice by working to reduce the level of violence in society by addressing injustices in the nation, largely impacting People of Color, by attending to “seeds of violence in ourselves, and by reducing the level of risk and stress for all, including police officers.

• Follow the Way of Jesus with integrity, “confronting forces of violence and racism with love in our hearts and with our trust centered on the God of resurrection at work through history and beyond.”

For information, call 608-469-1406, email, or visit


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Fall 2020


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