Updated at bottom with statements
A grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri, has returned no indictment against Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen on August 9, igniting weeks of protests and touching off a national debate on police violence in African American communities.
Churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and other communities of faith in the Ferguson area are offering themselves as “safe spaces” in the wake of the announcement.
Earlier today, the Very Rev. Mike Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis wrote a prayer for the grand jury on his blog. It begins:
This morning, let us pray for the members of the grand jury that reconvenes today.
Let us not pray for any specific outcome. Let us not pray for any specific timetable. Let us pray for the men and women who make up that body.
Later in the day, Kinman wrote:
The announcement will be at 8 tonight. You are welcome and encouraged to join us at Christ Church Cathedral at that time. When the announcement is made, we will first observe 4 1/2 minutes of silence (in accordance with the request of the Brown family … we must never forget that at the center of this is the death of a child) and then begin our 24 hour vigil of prayer.
The vigil will be a combination of corporate prayer and song as well as much time for silent prayer. There will be art supplies available and pastoral counselors here. Come be with us in prayer or pray where you are.
If you feel called to go to the streets and join the demonstrations, … let me know so I can hold you in prayer (anyone can also text or call me if you want me to pray with you or talk). Please remember that although the demonstrations have been almost completely nonviolent on behalf of the demonstrators so far, that whenever you have a crowd full of emotion and police who are on edge the situation can change quickly. I recommend you NOT go to a demonstration alone, carry a spare cell phone battery and have a plan of what you are going to do if things turn chaotic or violent. Make that choice beforehand so you have a plan. That is not me being alarmist — I have great hope that tonight will be powerfully nonviolent — but it is being realistic to prepare in case it is not.
Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Missouri have been deeply involved in working with communities in and around Ferguson in anticipation of the verdict. A diocesan news release begins: Last week Bishop Wayne Smith wrote to the people of the diocese that as people of God, we do well to prepare spiritually, “Corporate and personal prayer become crucial in times like these, and I know that some congregations expect to open their doors to be places of prayer for their neighborhoods. Their doing so encourages me, and I hope that you will publicize these invitations broadly.” (Follow the link for the release to see a list of churches.)
The Rev. Teresa Danieley of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tower Grove, Missouri is featured in the story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Churches to serve as safe spaces after Ferguson grand jury announcement.”
The Praying with Our Feet website is often a good source of information on how faith groups are preparing for and responding to events in Ferguson.
The Episcopal Church has published “A Way Forward: Reflections, Resources and Stories Concerning Ferguson, Racial Justice and Reconciliation” on its web site.
Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times’ article “Praying and Waiting” gives a good sense of the mood among people of faith inthe St. Louis area before the grand jury’s decision was released.
Amy Julia Becker has written a column for Christianity Today saying “White Christians: It’s Time to Stand in Solidarity With Your Black Brothers and Sisters.”
All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena released the following statement:
Standing with Ferguson
“As we watch the news breaking from Ferguson, Missouri we recognize once again the harsh reality that structural racism is a given in our nation,” said Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena.
Our prayers are with the people of Ferguson as they seek to express in nonviolent ways their insistence on justice. This challenge, issued by St. Louis Cathedral Dean Mike Kinman, is one we take as our own today: “It is up to us whether Ferguson and St. Louis will just be the identified patient for American racism or whether this will spark a national movement for transformation, a movement that will not end until all people are treated as beloved images of God.”
Today we stand with those who are distraught over the vulnerability of unarmed young men of color in our country. We stand with those holding our law enforcement officials accountable to the safety and well being of ALL community members and to ensure that they work towards methods the produce mutual trust and respect. And we stand with members of the law enforcement community committed to overcoming structural racism and making liberty and justice a reality in our cities, our streets and our communities.
May we be the change we yearn to see as agents of love, justice and compassion in our nation and in our world as we stand with Ferguson as people of hope and reconciliation.