Rev. Dr. Richard Gentzler, Jr.

Americans witnessed an unprecedented assault on our Capitol on Wednesday, January 6. Former President George W. Bush, a United Methodist said, “The violent assault on the Capitol — and disruption of a Constitutionally mandated meeting of Congress — was undertaken by people whose passions have been inflamed by falsehoods and false hopes.”

The day’s events are a watershed moment for United Methodists to raise our voices and come to grips with the reality that all too often our silence has been complicit with the lies and distortion of the truth propagated by former President Trump and many of his followers.

Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling said, “As a church, as Christians, we must condemn all the forces that led to the unprecedented insurrection today — forces of hate, of white supremacy, of distorted self-interest, and abuse of power.”

As clergy and church leaders of older adult ministry, we must speak out against the hate, white supremacy, the evils of self-interest, and abuse of power. Too many of our congregations have been silent and indifferent to the growing forces of evil and to the plight of our sisters and brothers. It is important for all United Methodist congregations to take a stand in the name of Jesus and to make our voices heard in the community and halls of justice.

As United Methodists we are called upon to commemorate and celebrate the contributions to our nation made by people of African descent. American historian Carter G. Woodson established the first Black history week (then called Negro History Week) nearly a century ago. The event was first celebrated during the second week of February 1926, selected because it coincides with the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and abolitionist/writer Frederick Douglass (February 14).

In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial, Black history week was expanded to a month. Since then, U.S. presidents have proclaimed February as national Black History Month (also known as African American History Month).

The following prayer/poem by African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader Dr. Howard Thurman is perfect for use during worship as we celebrate Black History Month:

Give Me the Courage to Live

by Dr. Howard Thurman*

Give me the courage to live!
Really live – not merely exist.
Live dangerously,
Scorning risk!
Live honestly,
Daring the truth – 
Particularly the truth about myself!
Live resiliently –
Ever changing, ever growing, ever adapting,
Enduring the pain of change
As though ‘twere the travail of birth.
Give me the courage to live
Give me the strength to be free
And endure the burden of freedom
And the loneliness of those without chains;
Let me not be trapped by success,
Nor by failure, nor pleasure, nor grief,
Nor malice, nor praise, nor remorse!

Give me the courage to go on!
Facing all that waits on the trail.
Going eagerly, joyously on,
And paying my way as I go,
Without anger or fear or regret
Taking what life gives,
Spending myself to the full.
Dead high, spirit winged, like a god –
On…on…till the shadows draw close.
Then even when darkness shuts down,
And I go out alone, as I came,
Naked and blind as I came –
Even then, gracious God, hear my prayer:
Give me the courage to live.

* This prayer-poem is credited to Dr. Howard Thurman, an African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. As a prominent religious figure, he played a leading role in many social justice movements in the 20th century. His theology of radical nonviolence influenced and shaped a generation of civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thurman was dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953-1965. When King was a doctoral student at Boston University, Thurman was his mentor. Before coming to Boston University, Thurman was at Howard University.

This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of ENCORE Ministry Matters. To receive this free monthly enewsletter, contact emmatters@encoretnumc.org.