August 31, 2020 - As we begin a new academic year at Wesley Theological Seminary we are also mindful that our world is in disarray. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 180,000 Americans and infected more than 6 million. The pandemic has also revealed the racial and social inequalities in America as disproportionate numbers of Black and brown people have been infected and died. When many employees were allowed to telecommute, some workers were required to expose themselves to offer essential services. As employees have been furloughed or laid off, the poor find themselves without a safety net. Moreover, preexisting health conditions, more proximate living quarters and lack of access to health care made the marginalized more vulnerable to be infected and develop life-threatening symptoms. Moreover, the unjustified murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, among others this spring and summer, and the most recent shooting of Jacob Blake III in the back, has exposed anti-Black racism in our criminal justice system and society.
This last shooting hit me particularly hard because the Blake family is from my hometown of Evanston, IL. Jacob Blake’s father, Jacob Blake II, attended the same middle and high school as I—just one year apart. Jacob Blake’s grandfather was a prominent pastor and civil rights leader at Ebenezer AME Church. And now Jacob Blake III is fighting for his life in the ICU after unjustly receiving seven shots. Rev. Raphael Warnock has called racism in America the pandemic that has infested our nation for centuries. COVID-19 has further exposed the structural inequalities and racism that were a pre-existing condition.
In the midst of these two pandemics, we are called by God to continue to be the church even as we grieve, pray and care for one another. We also begin this school year with the added challenges of hybrid and distance learning, virtual worship and the limitation of not being able to see each other face to face. Yet as a seminary community, we continue to persevere to study, learn and prepare for ministry while we also wrestle with these national and international issues of injustice. We pray as a seminary community that out of our faithfulness and commitment we will build a better church, nation and world that more closely reflects the Reign of God.
Just as early Christians found hope in Jesus Christ as they faced persecution in the Roman Empire, we are called to move forward in faith. The author of 1 Peter in the Petrine tradition wrote: “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 NRSV). I invite you as we begin the 2020-21 school year to continue to study, learn and teach to deepen our faith and “be ready to make your defense…of the hope that is in you.”
Philip Wingeier-Rayo, PhD