Soul Food: Juneteenth Day
‘Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ Gal. 6.2
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.” —General Orders, Number 3; Headquarters District of Texas, Galveston, June 19, 1865.
When Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued Order Number 3, he had no idea that, in establishing the Union Army’s authority over the people of Texas, he was also establishing the basis for our holiday, “Juneteenth” (“June” plus “nineteenth”), marked for the first time today as a federal holiday. While we celebrate when the last slaves were learning of their emancipation, racial justice has not yet reached everyone in the United States. We commemorate Juneteenth, but we also remember the spirit of the order’s intent to liberate is not yet fulfilled.
In our house, the United Methodist Church, since Richard Allen, Black Methodism has always been grounded in a renewal movement to embody all-inclusive divine good. Relationship with our past and with African American United Methodists, especially, offer the whole church opportunity for a deeper discipleship than other ecclesial bodies that may not be global in nature. We know relationship is the vehicle for transformation. The United Methodist Church is blessed by relationships that hold us in spaces of cultural humility and accountability.
It was a gift to have the annual conference opening service of worship a time to share a dialogue sermon with Rev. Dr. Grace Cajiuat. That moment held openness, listening to the Spirit and each other, as well as listening to what the moment itself needed to make Christ known. I pray the text spoke to the assertion there is bread enough for all at God’s table.
As followers of Jesus, we have an Other-first discipleship. We are changed by relationship with Jesus, and any Other, always in a formative relationship with the Other. Other-first thinking takes us off our pedestals and out of our self-oriented mindsets because the relationship with Jesus--and any stranger at the door who represents Jesus—is formative.
I would prayerfully ask us to commemorate Juneteenth as a national holiday that has a moral warrant to be more than a long weekend. Juneteenth Day gives us a shared image and language to motivate us to do the long work of radical inclusion and racial justice in our church and world. May it be so.
Know that I am praying for you, and when you see this, I will be on my renewal leave—please pray for my renewal. Thank you.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).