Guide My Feet, Lord, While I Run this Race: 
Reflections on 2021 Justice and Service at St. Johns

How many of you practice a sport that requires not just one burst of energy and strength, like weightlifting, but intense, sustained effort?  Perhaps you’re a middle-distance runner, a marathoner, a cross-country skier, or a cyclist.  I was a rower.  A transition happens in these events over the first three minutes of a race, when your body switches from anaerobic respiration to aerobic respiration.  That conversion of energy allows you to go the distance, but not comfortably. You still must recover the debt of oxygen that you incurred at the beginning of the race. Physiologists have studied this conversion from one respiration state to the other by measuring sustained effort of athletes on a bicycle ergometer:

From “Oxygen Uptake and the Aerobic and Anaerobic Contributions to Exercise,” NSCA’s Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition, June 2017

Conversion is hard work. One system in your body fights another.  When I would find myself going over the two-minute mark in a crew race, I often felt like it would be easier just to stop rowing.  But when I and my fellow rowers got beyond three minutes, we found the energy and the will to row further.

I believe we’re in the midst of a similar conversion of energy in the way we practice justice and service at St. Johns. As Howie Anderson explained during his stewardship talk, we’re heirs to a long tradition of doing justice. Yet George Floyd’s murder and the riots and violence that followed have jolted us from our previous patterns. These jolts caused us to ask fresh questions about where we’re going next.  Last summer, we took a deep dive into studying racism and how our systems perpetuate injustice.  From November to last May, a small group of us studied race and U.S. history, discovering facts and perspectives that many of us were never taught or had forgotten.  And we began reflecting in our Justice and Service Committee on our patterns of ministry with others. 

We are discovering there are no easy answers to questions like racial equity and public safety. A weary, angry tension hangs over Minneapolis as politicians and organizers debate the various charter amendments, and reporters for The Star Tribune, Minnesota Reformer, Sahan Journal, Unicorn Riot, and others hold up mirrors that show us contradictions and flaws of our only-too-human government and law enforcement systems.  Just like racers converting to a different energy state, we are shifting our approach away from persuading others through lobbying or leadership.  We are attempting, with God’s help, to pursue a more intentionally humble, relationship-driven model of service.  For example, on October 19th at 7:00 pm, St. Johns will host a Ward 13 forum of candidates for city council led by the League of Women Voters.  We are co-sponsoring this forum with St. Luke’s and St. James and seven neighborhood associations. Because of renewed pandemic restrictions, there will be no live audience.   St. John’s will provide space, security, and technical support so that voters can watch and post questions online. 

We continued to seek new frameworks for answering these questions at our recent retreat at St. Jane’s House in North Minneapolis. Our retreat was facilitated by the Reverend Kelly Chatman. Reverend Chatman will preach at St. Johns on November 7th.  At our retreat, he offered us rich models to explore kinship with others across lines of difference.  We also pondered the metaphor of our parish lifting anchor and setting sail, which Lisa so ably unpacked in her October 10th sermon.  We will spend the rest of the year unpacking Reverend Chatman’s models in our committee. We want to understand and continue to prepare for deeper relationships within our parish and with neighbors near and far as we do justice and service work.  We hope and pray for continued renewal with our other Northside partners, like Liberty Church.

To sum up, after a period of extended isolation during the pandemic and disruption that sapped our energy and caused us to question ourselves, we are renewing, or initiating, deeper partnerships with others.  With God’s help, we are seeking the peace and welfare of the city, for as the prophet Jeremiah says, in that peace we will find peace.  We are not just writing checks, although financial support is critical; we are committing time and talent to work together with others as equals. While we do not seek to dominate others with our religious or political beliefs, we are patiently working towards a shared understanding that allows us to express the Spirit that Bishop Curry describes as loving, liberating, and life-giving. We are letting go of our old selves, and we are remembering our history as we prepare for future reconciliations with others.

If you are feeling called to justice and service work, I invite you to email me at sjschewe@gmail.com. I’ll connect you with leaders of specific justice and service ministries, or invite you to attend our team meetings on the third Saturday of the month by Zoom from 9:45 am to 11:30 am. Guide our feet, Lord, while we run this race!

Steve Schewe
Chair of Justice & Service Committee