Participants stand with signs during a support gathering for students protesting violence in Palestine. Photo by Patrick Scriven (PacNW) for WJ Communications.

By Kristen Caldwell, WJ Communications

As the plenary session broke for lunch at the Charlotte Convention Center on Tuesday, a line of seminary students and supporters gathered in witness and protest for the ongoing conflict in Palestine, and more specifically, the students who have been victims of violence as they’ve protested on college campuses around the country.

Grace Roger, a student at Candler School of Theology, and young adult participant at General Conference, said individuals here felt there needed to be a witness after reports came out last Thursday that student protests were being met with violent response from police – particularly at Candler (Emory University) in Atlanta.

“We’re here because we’re passionate about The United Methodist Church,” Roger said. “A public presence here is meaningful.”

As students lined up near the Starbucks on the main level of the convention center, holding signs for their various United Methodist-affiliated seminaries across the country, they were greeted with more delegates, pastors and observers willing to hold signs and hold space for witness along with them.

“What’s going on in Palestine is central to our faith,” said Rev. Amy Stapleton from The Mountain Sky Conference. She’s an observer at General Conference. “We have to stand with the oppressed.”

Stapleton said her congregation in the Denver area has taken an active role in justice matters. She and members recently walked the Nativity Trail during Ramadan in Palestine. Her church has hosted film series and more.

“We’re learning how to be better allies in this work,” she said.

Aurora Celestin, a Union Theological Seminary School student, led the group in prayer.

“Forgive us, oh Lord, for paying for the exportation and globalization of white supremacy. Forgive us, oh Lord, for refusing to teach the history or learn from it. Forgive us, oh Lord, for our commitment to death and destruction,” Celestin read. “Forgive us, oh Lord, for all the ways we have sold our souls for this genocide and so many others.”

Celestin’s prayer came after silence, songs and chants for Palestine. For students.

“It was important to do a prayer that wasn’t just a platitude,” Celestin said. “I still believe in the power of prayer, especially as a communal act of witness. A prayer can indict. A prayer can be a call for justice.”

Rev. Chebon Kernell, executive director of the Native American Comprehensive Plan for The United Methodist Church participated as well. As a person whose family has experienced generations of colonization, as someone who has been involved in the national “Stop Cop City” movement, he felt called to join and help uplift student voices.

“I have a hard time going about business as usual,” he said.

Roger said they have felt inspired by the actions the General Conference seems poised to take when it comes to the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ voices in the life and ministry of the church. Roger was pleased one petition regarding the ongoing conflict in Palestine has moved out of committee. Petition 20539 “Exclude Government Debt of Countries Involved in Prolonged Military Occupations” calls for, among other things, divesting from Palestine.

“It feels especially important that we are visible at this point,” Roger said. “The United Methodist Church is maybe, hopefully, making some changes that it needs. I’m still holding my breath.”

 

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