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ELCA Racial Justice

Honoring International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Guest Blog writer Rev. Aimée Appell

In honor of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited the Rev. Aimée Appell, MDiv DMin to share some thoughts about the Triennial Assembly of the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice and their work to end racism and dismantle white supremacy.

The Triennial Assembly of EDLARJ (the European Descent Lutheran Association for Racial Justice, newly changed to White Lutherans for Racial Justice) was held in Minneapolis, Minn., March 1-3. A large part of our time together was spent in a pilgrimage to George Floyd Square. What I saw and experienced there changed my understanding of love and pushed my thinking about fear, as I witnessed what it means to say that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

I don’t need to tell you how often our cultural conversation limits love to an emotion. You’ve heard the songs and seen the shows and bought the cards. It is so difficult to find pop culture examples of love beyond romance that when Anna and Elsa’s sister love was the focus of Frozen, it was worthy of commentary. But repeatedly during our pilgrimage and our resulting conversations, we witnessed love as an action.

The community in George Floyd Square has been meeting daily for over a thousand days now to love one another through action. They have brought their individual gifts together to become love for their neighbors. Jennie Leenay used her fashion background to create The People’s Closet, where clothing of all kinds is available for free to those who need it. Similar projects have created a library and a garden center, each tended by volunteers. Marquise Bowie greets visitors and urges them to do the difficult work of love-in-action in their home communities, standing with victims of injustice and educating their neighbors. Community members offer their time and their stories so that pilgrims to the square leave educated about what happened there. And every day, morning and evening, the community gathers, lights a fire in the firepit and checks in, offering mutual support, listening for what is needed and loving one another. With action.

This is the kind of love that casts out fear. As our preacher, the Rev. Dr. Jia Starr Brown, reminded us at the end of our pilgrimage day, action love is the prerequisite for the emotional, sentimental kind of love that we usually talk about. “I do not enter into … relationship with anyone who does not actively work for my overall good: defending my character and advocating for my justice when it is questioned, compromised or stolen. And neither should you.”

This action-love draws us toward one another, even toward those we might not actually like. I don’t have to particularly like someone to provide them with clothing, food, shelter, safety. I just have to love them. And in loving them, I find that I fear them less. I am drawn into their community, and we become family, because family take care of one another. Family love one another, even if they don’t like one another.

1 John (and Martin Luther) remind us that we often give a lot more energy to fear than to love. The power of fear drives our economy — everything from deodorant sales to car sales to the military industrial complex is based in fear. Our political system has become so bogged down by fear that it barely functions anymore. Fear of neighbor, fear of embarrassment, fear of poverty, fear of death, fear of immigrants, fear of “those people.” We give our attention, our time, our money to fear.

This is why we are to fear and love God above all else. If we fear God above death, poverty, embarrassment or (most especially) other people, our neighbors, then we will give our attention, time, money, even our whole selves, to God, who is Love — Love as Action. God is love so deep, so radical, so active, that God could not sit still waiting for us to come to God. God’s active love came to us and showed us just how powerful Love as Action can be. Powerful enough to overcome death and to cast out fear, giving us the strength, courage and love to stand in solidarity with marginalized people throughout our community, and throughout the world.


Rev. Aimée Frye Appell holds an M.Div. degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn, and her Doctor of Ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. She has served as solo pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Washington, Mo., since 2010. Since January 2021 she has served half-time at Peace and half-time as director for evangelical mission in the Central States Synod of the ELCA. She has also lived and worked in Washington, D.C.; Seattle, Wash.; Anchorage, Alaska; St. Paul, Minn.; and Provo, Utah.

Pastor Aimée was ordained in 2010. In her time at Peace Lutheran she has helped the congregation grow into community leaders as a congregation “Bound by Christ, to Break Boundaries.” Together they have spearheaded several initiatives to build inclusion and dialogue in their community, including Vacation Culture School, Stories Matter, a local Juneteenth celebration and a series of community book discussions. In 2017 she received the Humanitarian Award from Church Women United of Franklin County Missouri. In 2018 she and her congregation received the Clergy Renewal grant from the Lilly Foundation.

After sabbatical with her family in South Africa and France, Pastor Aimée began working on a Doctor of Ministry degree, focused on anti-racism in the ELCA. In addition she has worked with the City of Washington to develop its Community Relations Committee, with the goal of building and nurturing inclusive community as their regional demographics change. She serves on the Central States Synod’s Racial Justice Team and on the board of the Association of White Lutherans for Racial Justice.

When not focusing on her call, she can be found spending time with family, knitting, crocheting, reading or gardening. She is mother to four wonderful children – Elinor, Holden, Grace and Abby (as well as three dogs, one cat, a snake, a gecko, a bearded dragon, a bullfrog and a pet rat). She and husband Nelson, who is director of the Washington Public Library, have been married since March 2000.

Black History Month: What It Means to Me by Guest Author Clair Minson

In honor of Black History Month, ELCA Racial Justice Ministries invited Seminarian Clair Minson to share some thoughts about this topic with our readers.


What began as “Negro History Week” in 1926 — created by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson out of his concern that young African Americans lacked an education about their own heritage and ancestors — has since expanded to what we now know and observe as “Black History Month.”[1] Woodson, a life-long educator, understood the power of knowing one’s history and one’s ancestral heritage. Knowing that you are part of a long legacy of people who have the capacity to create whole societies can ground you in the belief that you too can do anything. Not knowing this history can become a seeding ground for internalized oppression.[2]

As Nikole Hannah-Jones writes in her book The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, “The vision of the past I absorbed from school textbooks, television, and the local history museum depicted a world, perhaps a wishful one, where Black people did not really exist. This history rendered Black Americans, Black people on all the earth, inconsequential at best, invisible at worst.”[3] I suspect that this erasure of Black his- and her-story is what Woodson was confronting through the development of Negro History Week.

As people of faith, steeped in the tradition of remembering and honoring our ancestors, we know the power of hearing, repeating and internalizing the miraculous stories of Moses, Joshua, Mary and Paul. Despite thousands of years of separation, we rely on these stories to help us cling to our faith and to a God who can at times feel very distant, despite always being with us. Understanding this, we perhaps also understand that recalling the stories of our Black ancestors is equally as powerful and necessary.

In preparation for this blog, I sat with the question “What does Black History Month mean to me?” and after some time an answer surfaced. To me, Black History Month is not just an obligatory nod to African American people; it’s a reminder of the strength and resilience of a people who, despite being erased from history and relegated to the margins of society, continue to contribute to the flourishing of our society. It’s a reminder of who we are and whose we are. It’s a reminder from “whence we came” and a vision for where we can go. It’s a clarion call to those who feel lost and need a reminder that their stories and their lives matter.

Black History Month is an opportunity for us as Christians to live into our call to be countercultural and share histories that many in society want to censure. It is an opportunity to live into the commitments we have made as a denomination to honor, protect and value the lives of people of African descent. I ask you, as people of faith, steeped in the tradition of remembering and honoring our ancestors, the same question: What does Black History Month mean to you?


Clair Minson, founder and principal consultant of Sandra Grace LLC, is a nonprofit leader, racial equity consultant, and theologian who leverages her decade-plus experience in workforce development and mental health counseling to maximize the impact of forward-thinking institutions across the United States.

Anchored in her faith in the human capacity for change and propelled by a critical analysis of systemic and institutional racism, Clair works with clients in the public and private sectors to develop and implement sound strategies that address the root causes of social inequity. She first entered the field as a counselor, directly supporting formerly incarcerated people in identifying and developing their skills and passions upon reentry into their communities, and later transitioned into the role of philanthropic strategist, in which she was charged with positioning workforce development as a catalyst for economic justice.

In 2019, Clair founded Sandra Grace, a change-management firm that provides training, consulting and thought-partnership to nonprofit, for-profit and public organizations in embedding racial equity practices in their policies, operations and programs. Sandra Grace serves clients in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco, among other cities.

Clair completed her B.A. in psychology at Clark Atlanta University and her master’s degree in community counseling from Argosy University; she is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She is a nationally certified counselor (NCC) and a licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC) in the state of Maryland.

Clair is from the Bahamas and currently lives in Colorado with her two daughters.


[3] Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (New York: Random House, 2021), xvii.

Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA? by Lenny Duncan


Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA?

A documentary film by Lenny Duncan, ANKOS films and Tangled Blue.

Teaser Trailer

Director’s Note

So, I’m doing a film. It’s really that simple, asking a simple question. Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA? What does that even mean? The only answer I can give is to ask another question. What is the answer that immediately comes to mind when I ask, do black churches matter in the ELCA?

It might be a yes. Possibly with a caveat. Or a resounding no. Well, that will affect how you see this film.

So, this idea started as an independent study here at United Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia. Like my exorcism work last year, it evolved. I was going to write a very sterile paper where I matched up the ELCA’s social statements, resolutions, and constitution with what we did with our money that year. The theological thinking behind it was going to be simple. Are we doing what we say we want to do? This was a simple task accomplished by looking at the history of what we have done. I would seek publication in some academic journal. It would have been powerful in its intent.

Follow the money.

It wasn’t until I started chasing the story down (in the undercroft of the seminary, in arguably the most complete Lutheran Archive in North America) that I started to realize what it needed was impact. It also was too important of a story to be stuck in the echo chamber, which is theological academia. Edit: White Academia. Edit: White cis het Academia.

This would be the death of this story. Why is that? Because the systems that are in place, that are being analyzed in this work, would unconsciously fall into the same demonic patterns it always does. This work would be outright rejected, picked apart by some academic desperate to prove the church bears no responsibility, or it would land with a feather fall and not a seismic boom.

So, as I scrambled to get camera equipment, to record some interviews for ease of later access for my research, it hit me like a thunderbolt. A Movie. A documentary. This would be an easy media format to access for churches, synod assemblies and people just interested. I could put it in several pieces on YouTube for ease of consumption.

I contacted the incomparable Jason Chesnut at Ankos Films, for help. I bought a starter DSLR camera. I reached out to the composers in residence at United Seminary in Philadelphia, Tangle Blue, for some royalty free tunes and beats. It came together so easily the indwelling of the Holy Spirit had to be all over it.

But what is the story? What is the story this film will tell you?

I’m about almost through shooting so I can share with you the story so far.

It is about a church, and white Protestantism and its seeming collapsing in on itself. It is about a system that got so use to being at the very center of a democracy and society, and is no longer in that privileged position. It is about the way it has treated its Black pastors and churches. It is going to point to the fact that while we scream for diversity in the ELCA we have some systemic inequities in the way we launch, nurture, and treat these ministries. Its focus will be Philadelphia and its history (mostly). How at one point baptized membership here was 58% Black Lutheran.

It is about a seminarian who spent 2 years studying the confessions, our social statements, and this church before joining. It is about what I found when I arrived. It is about being a Black Lutheran from one person’s limited perspective. I am not in the film directly but I am there. We will look through my eyes.

It is not a complete history of the prophetic witness of my elders who have labored long and wearily in this field. However, it will point to the fields of littered bodies I found when I arrived, and it will honor the efforts of those who came before me. This will also be limited by my “newness” to this church.

I recently visited the African American History Museum with Judith Roberts our Director of Racial Justice Ministries in the ELCA. As we moved through the history of the subjection of black bodies in this country. As we waded through rivers of spilt blood, and marveled at torrential downpours of black resistance the importance of the work I am doing became clearer. I already was getting a sense that I was doing holy work. However, the prophetic witness of Black Lutheranism over all that I saw that day rang out like a song I could hear just around the bend of every corner there. We stood together under the flag of my great-great grandfather’s regiment in the civil war.

We waited in the long line to see Emmet Till’s coffin. The four of us who were gathered together that day stopped and prayed silently that day in front of the coffin as Mama Till’s words came out of a nearby speaker. We drew a direct line from Emmet to Trayvon Martin in our hearts.

I hope that in some way this movie can contribute to and not take away from, the beautiful mosaic that is Black Lutheran History.

My hope is to gain access to a deep sense of lament and well of ancestral power I am accessing.

It is about a church that has fewer resources. Less relevance. An uncertain future. Death nipping at its heels as it races towards resurrection.

It is about a church whose only chance for survival is to turn to the prophetic witness of Black Lutheranism, and the leaders and peoples it has treated as second-class citizens in the kingdom of God.

It is about suffering servants, elders of the diaspora, and communities squeezed by empire being the literal incarnation of Jesus.

It’s about whether or not a church can actually listen to the cries and wisdom of the historically oppressed.

It’s about, “Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA?”



Lenny Duncan is a Vicar at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and Candidate for ordination to the office of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. Formerly incarcerated. Formerly homeless. Formerly “Unchurched”. He is also the Evangelist for the #decolonizelutheranism movement, as well as a frequent voice on the intersection of the Church and the cries of the oppressed. He pays special attention to the #blacklives movement in his work, but also lifts the frequent intersection with other marginalized peoples.  He believes that the reason the ELCA has remained so white is a theological problem not sociological. He is currently an Mdiv Coop student at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and holds a Bachelors of Biblical Studies from Lancaster Bible College, with an emphasis in New Testament theology.