By Bishop Dwayne D. Royster Pastor,
Living Water United Church of Christ, Philadelphia PA
Clergy Leader, POWER Philadelphia
I and several other clergy recently met with the Philadelphia Police Commissioner. In preparation for the meeting, David, the community organizer working with us asked who we were thinking about as we prepared for the meeting – whose pain was fueling our desire for change?
I thought of the youth in my church. The faces of Candace, Russell, Char, Brianna, Jezeray, and countless others came to mind. These children have seen and experienced life in painful ways. One Sunday morning, we couldn’t get to the block where our church is located. Police were everywhere and several intersections were taped off. Someone had fired an automatic rifle on one of the adjacent blocks in an altercation.
Spent bullet casings littered the sidewalk and street as police forensics units worked to collect the evidence. Yet, this act of violence that hit so close to my church home wasn’t even covered on the news. It was painful to realize that crime and violence has become so commonplace in some of our communities that it is no longer newsworthy.
Our young people, in fact all of our residents, deserve better than this.
In Isaiah 58, God speaks through the Prophet Isaiah and challenges the city of Judah to get itself together in preparation for their restoration.
Much like the Philadelphia, many of people of Judah were lost. Workers were oppressed, leaders favored their own self –interest over the common good and violence was considered to be an accepted form of conflict resolution.
God instructed them to move forward. He calls on them to them to engage in kindness and justice towards one another. He also challenges them to stop pointing fingers and speaking evil. He tells them if they feed the hungry and meet the needs of the afflicted then God’s light shall arise.
By doing the work of justice and kindness, God told the people of Judah: “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
Philadelphia is an old city and there is much to be rebuilt. Yet, as people of faith, we must not only worship but engage in acts of justice.
There are breaches within the city of Philadelphia. The poor get poorer. Education leaves people uneducated and without the capacity to get a job. Our seniors do not feel safe to walk the streets of the neighborhoods in which they live. And many people go without needed health care because they cannot afford it. There is a word from the Lord on this matter: The people of God must engage in justice on behalf of those who live in unjust environments.
That is why I am a founding member of Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuilt. P.O.W.E.R. is the key to rebuilding Philadelphia. Using the tools of faith based community organizing, we will be the restorers of our streets. The P.O.W.E.R. Founding Convention will be held at 5:30 pm. on September 25 at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, 750 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA
We are communities of faith from across the vast religious spectrum as well as including numerous races, ethnicities and political ideologies. These types of differences once divided the city, but our diversity will only strengthen us. We are coming together with one voice to cry out for change in our city.
Only our faith could bring these disparate groups together. Only our faith will keep us together, and it is our faith in the God of our communities calling for justice that will cause us to organize together for collective change in Philadelphia — for the good of all.
Bishop Dwayne D. Royster is the founding Pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ located in the North Philadelphia section of Philadelphia. He has served in pastoral ministry for the past 18 years in a variety of positions and denominations including the United Methodist Church, The Mennonite Church and the Baptist Church Traditions. He is also founding member of POWER, a new PICO federation. The P.O.W.E.R. Founding Convention will be held at 5:30 pm. on September 25 at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church, 750 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA.