The Rev. Mike Kinman of Christ Church Cathedral.
photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
July 15, 2015Collection baskets at several area churches recently took in dollars for the "Rebuild the Churches Fund." The program is a response to arson and weather that has destroyed black places of worship in a number of cities in the American South.
The Rev. Mike Kinman of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, who is coordinating the effort, said the original goal was to raise $25,000. More than 180 congregations in 36 states are taking up special collections. The fund has now raised $178,000 toward its new goal of $250,000.
Proceeds are earmarked for the following congregations: College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.; God's Power Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.; Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C.; Glover Grove Baptist Church in Warrenville, S.C.; The Greater Miracle Apostolic Holiness Church in Tallahassee, Fla.; and Mt. Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, S.C.
"People are upset. Shooting people in churches and torching churches – can this really be happening in our country?" Kinman asked. "If hate is going to burn things down, it is love that is going to put them back up. We need to fight hate with love and refuse to live in a world of haters."
After a mass slaying June 17 by gunman Dylann Roof at a church in Charleston, S.C., at least six black churches have burned. Four are thought to have been weather-related and two are now being investigated as possible arson cases.
"We had a collection Saturday night that brought in $800 for the cause, which we feel is pretty good for a church of 40 members," said Rev. Jim Schratz, associate pastor for Saints Clare and Francis Ecumenical Catholic Church in Webster Groves.
"Father Frank Krebs, our church pastor and newly-elected, nation-wide bishop, really wanted to be a part of rebuilding these black churches. It doesn't matter to us whether it was arson or lightning or whatever burned them down. We want to help."
According to Schratz, the sermon that Saturday evening concerned the loss of the Mount Zion African Methodist Church in South Carolina. The predominantly black congregation is more than 100 years old.
Briar Creek Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., burns on June 24. The fire was intentionally set, according to authorities. (click for larger version)
"Father Krebs talked about the civil rights history of that African-American church and why it needs to be rescued and resurrected," Schratz said.
The church, recently destroyed by fire, was set ablaze in June 1995 almost 20 years to the day it burned this June. Two young men with ties to the Ku Klux Klan were apprehended in connection with that fire.
"We are encouraging all of our members to have their churches support the reconstruction of the destroyed black churches," said Emily Bland, chair of the Anti-Racist Collective of St. Louis. "We don't think it's enough to react to what is happening in the South by just taking down the Confederate flags, although that is a start.
"As a group largely made of white women, we want to make note of the killer's reported motives. Before taking the lives of nine people, Roof said, 'I have to do it ... you rape our women and you're taking over our country, and you have to go.' We reject this racist violence done in our name. We will not let 'protection' of white women be used as an excuse for white supremacist violence against black people."
The Rev. Larry Addison, pastor at Meacham Park's Church of God in Christ in Kirkwood, said his church has been distributing money to help those in the South who have lost their places of worship. He said it goes through his church's headquarters in Memphis.
"Collecting the money to rebuild all the churches and taking down the Confederate flags – that's just the tip of the iceberg," said Addison. "If that flag flies for another 100 years, I don't care. What's important is what is in people's hearts – not a flag.
"The real lesson of the shooting tragedy in the Charleston church was the survivors forgiving the killer," said Addison. "That's what is important to remember – not that he waved a flag."
Kinman of Christ Church Cathedral said he was pleased that 32 different faith denominations – including Christian, Jewish and Muslim – are represented in "Rebuild the Churches Fund," which is a St. Louis-based, interfaith effort.
"Our young activists remind us to love and support each other," said Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis. "We will continue to rebuild every church with our love and support and the good in us, in all of us, will win."
Rev. Heather Arcovitch, minister of First Congregational Church of St. Louis, said all people deserve a safe sanctuary – a sacred haven of peace.
"To desecrate and destroy a sanctuary is a heinous act," said Arcovitch, "We are praying that God will spread a shelter of protection and comfort over our black sister congregations, and we invite faithful people of all faiths to join in being God's hands and heart in doing it."