From the Executive
Director's Pen ...
I do not think there is anyone among us who cannot somehow identify with a distraught Mary as she approached the tomb of the executed Jesus.
We are not unfamiliar with or immune to tears of sadness. In fact, we are well acquainted with weeping. Children cry when they are afraid. Adults weep when they are grieving. So many of us have cried after having sat at the bedside of loved ones who made their transition from this earthly plane into the heavenly realm with God. Yes, we know something about weeping.
We wept as residents of East Palestine, Ohio, were forced to evacuate their community after a train derailment released toxic chemicals that contaminated their atmosphere and waterways … and we weep at the lack of laws that demand the disclosure of such chemicals that roll through our communities.
We wept as parents wrestled with their children’s addictions and recovery … and we weep because so many parents cannot adequately provide food or shelter for their families in this, the most affluent nation on earth.
We wept as parents and families in Nashville, Tenn., received the unspeakably horrible news that their children and loved ones were victims of an obscene mass shooting while inside their school … and we weep over our nation’s seeming inability to rise to the challenge of enacting common-sense gun laws that can protect school children, worshippers, shoppers, and Communities of Color from misguided people with guns.
We wept with the family and community of Mr. Tyre Nichols as we watched graphic video of his murder at the hands of former police officers in Memphis, Tenn. – persons who were sworn to serve and protect … and we weep over the continuation of the national scandal of unarmed Black and Brown people being killed by police officers who are not always held legally accountable.
Yes, we understand the necessity of crying. When it seems that hope has been made hollow, confidence has collapsed, and faith has failed, all we can do is cry out. All Mary could do was cry out.
When we are drowning in despair and surrounded by sorrows, it can feel as if we are in an endless cycle of misery, until the right person comes along, a person who knows us and understands how to attend to us.
This person has the ability to calm our fears and is able to dry our tears and restore our equilibrium, renew our confidence, and our replenish our faith. Sometimes it is a mother or father, and other times it could be a grandparent or a friend. The right person can lift you up and enable you to cut through the haze of sorrow and enter the next phase of life as emboldened by retrofitted hope.
At the height of her despair, Mary met this kind of person. After encountering two angels who served as the opening act for her reversal of fortune, she encountered a man who said, “Mary, why are you weeping?”
With eyes clouded by a tsunami of tears, she assumed this man was the gardener. She may have said, “Sir, I don’t know the kind of joke you are playing, but if you have removed Jesus’ body, just tell me where it is and I will take it from there.”
Just then, she realized this man whom she thought was the cemetery gardener was actually the guardian of her soul, for when he called her name, “Mary,” she knew exactly who he was.
Maybe she remembered coming to the garden alone, as the hymn writer suggests, while the dew was still on the roses. And the voice she would hear, falling on her ears, the Son of God discloses.
After hearing the resurrected Jesus call her name, Mary did what modern-day Christians love to do: She made an announcement! Mary went and found the disciples, brothers who had been locked down in the witness protection program, and announced to them, “I have seen the Lord!”
My friends, during our era of personal crying and widespread weeping, it is quite good to know that Jesus, the Risen Savior, knows our name! Even if our eyes are clouded with tears, even if our hearts are cluttered with fears, Jesus recognizes us! He knows who we are!
This is the Risen Savior who was arrested on Thursday, convicted and executed on Friday, laid in his grave on Saturday, and was raised from the dead on Sunday. I like how one songwriter put it, “Up from the grave he arose! With a mighty triumph over his foes!” – This Savior knows our names!
The Resurrection prompted the Apostle Paul to raise these bold questions while interrogating the forces of destruction: “Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O grave, is your victory?”
When he calls our names, Jesus signals that death has been defeated! When he calls our names, he tells us that sin, the foundation of violence and the springboard for injustice, has been dismantled! In his resurrection, love was reinstated; hope was restored; justice was reconstructed.
And now, in 2023, it is our job is to make some announcements! Jesus is alive! Love is alive! Hope is alive! Joy is alive! In the words found in another great hymn, we must, “Publish glad tidings, tidings of peace! Tidings of Jesus’ redemption and release.”
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Because he lives,
we can take the risk of loving our neighbors;
we can take the risk of forgiving our enemies;
we can take the risk of treating addictions;
we can take the risk of standing up for justice;
we can take the risk of marching for peace.
We can transform the policies designed for community polarization into laws designed for community liberation!
Because he lives, we can live in solidarity with weeping students, stand side by side with weeping families and communities, and march in the streets with weeping parents! These things we do because Jesus, the Risen Savior, knows our names! Amen!
The Reverend Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr.
Ohio Council of Churches
Sister Helen Prejean Featured in Webinar on Faith and the Death Penalty
The Ohio Council of Churches, Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE), and Faith Leaders of Color Coalition (FLOCC) held a Zoom webinar on Feb. 28 to share how the faith community can work to abolish the death penalty and how they can minister to victims’ families.
Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking and a major advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, and Bishop Gregory Palmer, Presiding Bishop of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church and OCC governing board member, were the featured speakers. Ms. Joia Thornton, Executive Director of FLOCC, served as the moderator. OCC Executive Director Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan Jr. also appeared to share his experiences with Ohio’s victims assistance organization after the murder of his sister. (He and his family have still received no assistance or communication).
Over 260 persons registered for the webinar and over 140 participated. Some of the participants shared their thoughts with the Council following the event. Here are some of their comments:
“I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the wonderful opportunity to be a part of your zoom meeting and conversation last night. Listening to Sister Helen and the other speakers helped me gain insight on the death penalty and the ramifications it has on family members of those who have been sentenced to this.”
“Being a social worker in a minority community, I agree how the social justice system targets particular people. I have learned so much more from this meeting and look forward to more.”
“I thought this was an excellent program! Sister Helen spoke about the needs of both the perpetrators and victims’ families, speaking out of her own experience. I have seen and heard Sister Helen before, and she reminded me of so much about which she wrote in Dead Man Walking. I also appreciated the emphasis on the role the churches could play in persuading the Ohio legislature to abolish the death penalty.”
The webinar can be viewed by clicking here.
Rev. Dr. Amariah McIntosh
On Feb. 28, 2023, the nation’s highest Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, held opening arguments for two cases preventing student debt relief. For many borrowers, it left them wondering:
What's next for student debt forgiveness?
Do they qualify for relief?
How will this impact them?
The Center for Responsible Living will host a webinar with experts from NAACP Youth & College and the National Consumer Law Center to answer those questions and many more. Join us on April 5 at 1 p.m. ET to learn what you can do while you wait for student debt relief.
ATTENTION FAITH COMMUNITIES IN OHIO
Undoubtedly you have been following the media coverage of the Feb. 3 train wreck and resulting chemical disaster in East Palestine, Ohio.
We are coming together from various faith traditions and denominations from throughout the state. On Earth Day Weekend, April 22-23, we will devote ourselves to becoming further informed on the situation in East Palestine, and then we will move to prayer, reflection, and action.
The actions will include donating money, food, water, and other supplies as well as services that East Palestinians may need. We also will be mobilizing our congregations to do all they can to help prevent more disasters. We clearly understand that what happened in East Palestine can happen anywhere – in any town or city that has rail lines running through it or near it.
Our campaign seeks better safety measures for freight rail and the diligent enforcement of safety rules. We encourage our congregations to communicate with state and local officials and legislators to take the actions needed and make the necessary reforms. This includes readjusting mindsets to put people ahead of corporate profits.
SATURDAY, EARTH DAY: APRIL 22. We invite clergy and lay leaders and environmental advocates to participate in our webinar on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22 to get the latest information on the situation in East Palestine and to discuss actions we can take going forward to aid East Palestinians and to bring about the reforms needed to keep our communities safe.
Overview & Update WEBINAR - Saturday, April 22, 3 p.m.
SUNDAY, EARTH DAY + 1: APRIL 23. We invite congregations of all religious persuasions to devote all or part of their worship services to a focus on East Palestine in the form of Prayer, Reflection, and a Call to Action. We will supply suggestions for these and/or you can construct your own. We will be conveying to you vetted charities that are benefitting East Palestine, and we will inform you about collection efforts of material goods for folks in East Palestine. We will also provide a list of suggested actions members of your congregation can take to help bring about needed safety reforms.
Click JOIN below for your congregation to participate
in the Sunday of Prayer, Reflection, and Call to Action on April 23.
OCC Executive Director Rev. Dr. Jack Sullivan recently participated in a discussion about the death penalty at Heidelberg University, sharing his own story of tragic loss. You can access the story here.