From Ferguson: What I Heard

Mercy Junction founder/evangelist, the Rev. Brian Merritt, arrived in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 21, at the height of protesters being met with a violent police response following the police shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. This was Brian’s third update after arriving. To read about why he went to Ferguson, visit Follow Love Be ~ Mercy Junction of Chattanooga.

A memorial for Michael Brown.One of the things I was most worried about in coming to Ferguson was something that rattled in my head like any good leftest pastor. I wondered if I was in some way exploiting this great tragedy as only a white male can do in coming to Ferguson, Missouri? What did I have to offer to this community? Who did I think I was to take this journey from my small ministry in Chattanooga to this scene of national catharsis?

From the beginning I almost apologetically explained to people that I was answering Landon Whitsitt’s call for Presbyterians to stand with those oppressed by the pernicious sin of our country’s racism. So, I determined that this was a trip of solidarity and not one of ego inflation. I would come to learn something, anything about myself and race.

When Landon and I took our trek back to the site of the fateful shooting there was ample opportunity in the heat to take in the serious and spiritual nature of our presence. Two white men who had the privilege to travel to this place at this time. I felt guilty, opportunistic and small.

Then I encountered people so grateful for our presence as clergy. Prayers and conversations too deep to express opened. Words that seemed to have deeper theological meaning coming from those neighbors seared me.

Sitting down on the steps to one of the projects, I struck up a conversation with a woman. Soon the conversation inevitably led to this shooting. This woman explained, “If you look closely at the memorial you can still see his blood. They tried to wash it, but the couldn’t get rid of it.”

A woman who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. talked to us about how important it was when the Attorney General told one of her frightened students that they didn’t need to fear because of their wonderful teacher. She beamed with pride. As we held hands in prayer I realized I had privilege in so many ways. Clearly moved by Landon’s prayer this woman said “your prayer meant so much in front of that boy’s blood, like Jesus’ blood.”

There are many things I don’t understand about race in America. Making a few days' trip to Ferguson doesn’t give me special insight into their situation. There are many things I still need to be taught by those who suffer its brutal reality and my part in it. One thing I do know is that every person from Ferguson who thanked me profusely for being with them in their community’s pain had given me so much more than I could ever receive. I am grateful for so many wonderful people who witness to the spirit that pervades this community and can shine a mirror into our shortcomings in giving dignity to our fellow humans.