Small groups at Morristown UMV discussed how the human family can live together peacefully as they journey together towards a community of hope, love and mutual respect. Photo provided

Journey to Beloved Community: A Conversation on Race

September 27, 2018 | | News

MORRISTOWN – In our growing diverse community, how do we get along with each other and share a good life together?  This question led the leaders of Morristown to organize a community-wide conversation on race called ‘Journey to the Beloved Community.’

The Juneteenth celebration in Morristown was a marvelous and moving day remembering Freedom Day (June 19, 1865) and the historic announcement of the emancipation of people enslaved in the former Confederate States. The event was made possible thanks to Bethel AME Church in Morristown which envisioned a community-wide Juneteenth celebration as part of its 175th anniversary. The General Commission on Archives and History of the UMC, Drew University’s Special Collection Archives and Drew Theological School were excited to help resource the day and Morristown UMC hosted the conversation on race.

Dr. Lillie Edwards, Professor Emerita of History and African-American studies at Drew and a member of the St. Mark’s UMC in Montclair, organized the conversation.

“Loving humanity requires us to heal the nations, including our own local communities, by engaging in conversations about race—past and present—to foster a future in which we love our neighbors as ourselves,” said Edwards.

Led by facilitators, small groups discussed how the human family can live together peacefully as we journey together towards a community of hope, love and mutual respect.  Edwards testified, “As 75 people launched into lively conversations about race, the church fellowship hall reverberated with energy and excitement.  The cacophony of voices reminded me of the disciples receiving the power of the Holy Spirit in Jerusalem.  On a Saturday afternoon at Morristown UMC, I witnessed the power of the human spirit to embrace humanity and embark on a journey to the ‘beloved community.’”

“Marking the day, I’m reminded that just because freedom is proclaimed doesn’t mean it is practiced,” said Dr. Fred Day, General Secretary of The United Methodist Commission on Archives and History. “Freedom, in the post-Civil War era and to this day, is something that requires continuing vigilance, determination and action. One of the things that made the day especially meaningful and transformational was not the pageantry on the Morristown Green, but dialog among community leaders held at the Morristown UMC. These roundtable discussions gathered many community leaders to talk about what’s still needed for people to live into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of all living and experiencing the ‘beloved community.’”

After developing a list of more than 30 potential action-steps, the participants accepted the challenge of successfully implementing just one of them in their respective houses of worship, organizations or communities.

“The depth and breadth of these action steps reveals how much work awaits those who embark on the journey to the ‘beloved community,’” Edwards noted.

There are historical connections between Bethel AME and Morristown UMC. The Morristown United Methodist Church gave Bethel its first church building in 1843.  Today, these congregations and three other United Methodist congregations are conducting a joint Rainbow VBS for all young people in the region.  Dr. Brandon Cho, Senior Pastor of Morristown UMC, said that this year’s Juneteenth celebration and Bethel’s anniversary gave his church an opportunity to enhance its work with other churches and community leaders on issues affecting Morristown, such as race, social and economic justice and immigration.

“This particular historical celebration became a magnet for bringing all these issues and people together, so we can work on a deeper level to generate a greater sense of community,” Cho said.  “Through this conversation, we are led to take a fresh look at what is really going on in our national conversation, our national discourse, on race.”

For more information, please contact Dr. Lillie Edwards at ledwards@drew.edu