MINNEAPOLIS, MN (June 20, 2017) – Grief, disbelief, anger, fear, and weariness were all expressed Saturday night during a gathering at Community Covenant Church that drew nearly 200 people from around the Twin Cities following Friday’s not-guilty verdict in the second-degree murder trial of police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year.
A livestreamed video filmed in the immediate moments following the shooting sparked days of protests in the Twin Cities and elsewhere.
Luke Swanson, pastor of Community Covenant, said the killing and subsequent verdict were part of “an unrelenting stream of tragedy.”
Lighthouse Covenant Church pastor Dee McIntosh, Sanctuary Covenant Church pastor Dennis Edwards, and Swanson spoke at the meeting before attendees broke into groups to share their pain and discuss next steps. Following the small-group discussion, the attendees came back together to express what they were thinking and feeling.
“It was a heavy evening, especially hearing from African American young men who talked about how scared they always are to drive anywhere. Many shared how terrified they are to get pulled over. They are terrorized,” Swanson said.
He added, “There were anger and tears and we held the space and stayed in the tension. Many shared that they were not even sure if they were ready to hear from white people about how they should feel. Yet we were united in our lament before the almighty God. This was not optimism we came to embrace, but we came to be the beloved community and cry out, ‘How long, O Lord.’”
Sanctuary pastor Dennis Edwards said, “The small groups tried to discuss ‘what’s next,’ but we acknowledged that we might not yet be ready for such a discussion. We realized that before we can fix anything we needed to allow ourselves space to breathe and simply lament the situation.”
On Sunday Edwards preached on Elijah’s depression in 1 Kings 19 and encouraged worshipers to acknowledge their own emotions and to recognize that it’s okay to not know how to proceed.
Many Covenant pastors across the country addressed the verdict and surrounding issues on Sunday. Shoreline (Washington) Covenant Church opened their service with a congregational lament. Pastors in other churches, such as Rick Lindholtz at Valley Covenant Church in Stillman Valley, Illinois, drew attention to the events during their pastoral prayers.
New Life Covenant Church in Atlanta held a 10-minute prayer vigil “to seek reconciliation and justice” at the conclusion of their Sunday service, said member Deric Gilliard.
“We’ve been in a series going through Psalms, showing how they address the entire range of human emotion: lament, anger, fear, despair, joy, praise, and security, as well as others,” said Noah Hormann, pastor of the Gallery Covenant Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is located near the governor’s mansion, the scene of multiple protests. “We re-framed a lot in light of the verdict, protests, and general tenor of our city. We ended up having a heavy section of lament Psalms in the middle of that service expressly focused at the pain of waiting for a future with a just King in a just kingdom.”
Covenant minister Efrem Smith lamented on Facebook, “How much more divided must our nation become before the Church sees the biblical connection between evangelism, discipleship, and justice?” and declared, “Black lives matter to God, even when it seems like they don’t matter in our justice system.”
Other pastors said, however, that their congregations remain detached from addressing racial and other justice issues. Members at several churches said there was no mention of the events.