Rev. Jeffery Postell, pastor at Scott UMC, does a lot of the things that senior pastors typically do– preaching, sermon writing, looking at the budget, organizing programming and volunteers, looking out for those who are sick or struggling and may need extra care.
He, and many other pastors right now, continues to grapple with COVID’s impact on their systems. It seems to have added a whole extra category to what pastors do in a week. “COVID has made it evident that our systems were outdated and inefficient. How do we establish a system now that can serve this present age? How do you make sure you take care of those who are also online?” Jeffery adds.
While churches have grappled with these new post-COVID realities—and now grapple with disaffiliations and polity issues—many black churches still find themselves dealing with politics and systemic issues, in addition to all the other difficulties the past few years have added.
The systemic issues are many. Jeffery explained that his community only has one grocery store “that store never has fresh vegetables. If you lack access to food, then you lack access to life.”
Jeffery explained that his neighborhood is becoming gentrified. The area has historically housed African Americans; however, older homes are being torn down and replaced with condos and townhomes that cost $250-300,000. “This automatically puts the poor out of a place to live. Now they’re looking for housing. That’s why homelessness is so high in my zip code. People are looking for assistance and help.”
Education is not immune to the systemic issues Jeffery sees as well. He cited that a local elementary school in their neighborhood is being closed. Although there are more schools down the street, parents who work will have to struggle to figure out how to get their kids to school. “If education is the way out of poverty, it just creates a vicious cycle,” he said.
“A lot of times, we think systemic issues aren’t spiritual. But they have a great impact on our spiritual life. It’s hard to be joyful when you’re hungry. It’s hard to believe that God is gonna make a way when things backfire and you end up with loss…Systemic issues are a spiritual issue for the Black experience,” Jeffery said.
When asked about the joys and challenges of serving as a black provisional elder, he said, “Currently, the joy is serving a denomination that’s, on paper, taken a stand and been on the right side of justice. The challenge is, in the current season, serving an African American church, that while most UMC churches are overwhelmed and obsessed with this issue we’re dealing with, black churches don’t have that privilege. We’re still dealing with the same issues we’ve been dealing with.”
Still, Jeffery still has high hopes for his community. “We would love to create a mental health program that would be free and help community members grieve,” he said.
Grief is a word that Jeffery used to define his community, and it’s one he would like to see change. He explained that murders happens at a higher rate in impoverished communities. Loss abounds. Scott UMC would love to establish retreats that people could go on for free to rest and rejuvenate.
Jeffery believes that his greatest call is to live empowered by the same Spirit that empowered Christ.“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
- Do you have easy access to healthy groceries?
- Do your kids have easy access to their schools?
- Do you feel like you have access to mental health resources?
If you answered yes to one or more of these, you may have systems suited to your community and your life. This is often a marker of white privilege. It’s something to be aware of.
This should make us ask:
- Are there people around me who do not have these same opportunities? And why?
- Is there some way I could be a partner in this? To speak about it with my neighbors, or get involved with local government, or could my church partner with a church in a low-income community to pool our resources, to learn from one another and grow together?
Systemic issues are spiritual issues. May we not be blind any of it– the privilege that exists for some, and the systemic issues that are still so real for many of our neighbors. How can we be allies to listen and be a part of a solution?