By Nilwona Nowlin
(June 24, 2020) — On Friday, June 19, Radiant Covenant Church in Renton, Washington, commemorated the Juneteenth holiday with an event they called March to Surrender. Mike Thomas, Radiant’s senior pastor, says the idea for the march was a literal answer to prayer as he was wrestling with the weight of the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis, and George Floyd. While asking God to help him and his wife process their own emotions as black people and the events with their children, Thomas felt another question rising up. He asked God how he and his congregation should respond—that’s when he got the vision for the March to Surrender.
Kim Thomas, Radiant’s pastor of administration (and Mike’s spouse), brought the vision to fruition after two weeks of nonstop organizing. With support from Greg Yee, superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference, they were able to recruit 46 churches—26 of which were Covenant congregations. “Pastor Michael Thomas and Radiant Covenant Church have been preaching, teaching, and incarnating the whole work of the church in Renton since their start seven years ago,” Yee says.
Yee says he knew it would be difficult to invite the whole conference to participate in the march in the midst of phase one coronavirus protocols, but he chose to submit to Thomas’s leadership and trust God to allow the Spirit to move. In reflecting on the march the next day, Yee said, “The church was not silent yesterday. The church was absolutely beautiful.”
The march started with a rally that included an intergenerational group of speakers. Thomas opened the rally with a message titled “No More Fruitless Fig Trees.” He named the silence and indifference of the church that has “created a heresy that has people thinking justice is separate from Jesus.” He continued that this silence has caused the church to be like the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13, which ends up “looking irrelevant to a broken, hungry, and dark world.”
Other speakers included pastors from several Covenant churches: Dave Sim (Renew Covenant Church), Erika Haub (Newport Covenant Church), and Rebecca Worl (Cedar Creek Covenant Church). The youngest speakers were Jeremiah Thomas, a North Park University student who also spoke at CHIC 2018 (and Kim and Mike’s son), and 12-year-old Kayden Coleman, both members of Radiant. Coleman shared an original poem called “Go to the Ocean.”
The hourlong rally ended with Thomas offering “what’s next” action steps followed by everyone gathered singing the hymn “I Surrender All” before beginning the march, which was a little over one mile long. About 700 people participated in the March to Surrender, including some who joined once the group was in motion. More than 1,000 watched the rally via live-stream on Radiant’s Facebook page. It was the largest attended march in the area to be organized by the church specifically to address the issue of devaluing black lives in the U.S. Thomas says organizers believe it was one of the largest of its kind in the nation to date.
“The heart of the March to Surrender was a call to the church to own our historical sin of silence and indifference,” Thomas said. “The church’s silence and indifference was just as violent as that knee on George Floyd’s neck.”