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A Letter from the Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Dedicated to the Unfinished Work
July 9, 2015

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on what he called “a great battlefield of that war.” That war was the Civil War between the Union and Confederacy, the North and the South.  The Civil War did not end until the spring of 1865.  These events took place over 150 years ago.

In his well-known and much loved address, President Lincoln spoke these words:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus so far nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us….

The Civil War began at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay, South Carolina. Four years and 650,000 lives later, the war ended at the Appomattox Courthouse in the state of Virginia.

On June 17, 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, one young white man, committing a heinous, cowardly crime motivated by racial bigotry, ended the lives of nine members of the church, including four pastors. The names of those murdered are: Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

Fellow Christians and people of good conscience are repelled, appalled, saddened, and grieved by this event. The continuing burning of black churches is equally grievous and offensive.

What we are learning and relearning as we deal with racism and anti-racism in our nation, in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, and in the Pittsburgh Presbytery, is that the work begun by the ending of slavery and the preservation of the Union is “unfinished work.”

We must vow “to be here dedicated to the great task(s) remaining before us” to dismantle racism in every structure, institution, school, church, work place, and hardened heart in our nation that has just celebrated 239 years of  freedom, liberty, and justice for some, but not for all.

It is rather for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work that the nine who died in Charleston have thus so far nobly advanced. As Jesus Christ taught them and teaches us, we are to welcome the stranger, preach the Gospel, and pray without ceasing for “a yet more excellent way,” the way of love.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus addressing the longstanding divisions between Jews and Gentiles:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Ephesians 2:14)

We must dedicate ourselves to breaking down the dividing walls of race. This is our unfinished work.


The Rev. Dr. Beverly W. James, Associate Minister for Discipleship to Pittsburgh Presbytery

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