By Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, COO, National Council of Churches
It was June 19, 1865 when Union soldiers finally made it to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect two years earlier and set free enslaved people in the U.S. It’s hard to imagine what that day must have meant to those finding out the news of emancipation for the first time. There must have been tears and shouts of joy, laughter and singing, shock and disbelief, praising God and dancing everywhere. Freedom, Freedom, O, Freedom!
The celebration of this day, referred to as Juneteenth, began a year later in Galveston, Texas in mostly church-led community events and has been commemorated ever since in Black communities across the country. This year for the first time, the National Council of Churches will honor Juneteenth as one of its national holidays and our office will be closed on Friday, June 18th. The decision was made to take this important date as a holiday last year in keeping with NCC’s commitment to racial justice and equity and to be consistent with the work being done through our A.C.T. Now! to End Racism initiative. We were delighted to receive the news this week that Congress has now made June 19th a federal holiday by passing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
NCC’s office will be closed but follow us on social media to view planned messages throughout the weekend about Juneteenth and our push to have legislation passed about the study of reparations (HR 40), voting rights (the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act) and police reform. As we celebrate the emancipation of those once considered property and stripped of their humanity, we do so recognizing that the fight for freedom, justice and equity for all of God’s people continues.
In a chapel service at the United Methodist Building in 2019, NCC Chief Operating Officer Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune shared the following responsive reading in celebration of the Juneteenth holiday.
Responsive Reading Written By Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, COO, National Council of Churches for June 10, 2019 Chapel Service, United Methodist Building
Leader: Today, we gather to remember, to reflect, to celebrate FREEDOM!
Congregation: Freedom is not free. We thank You, O God, today for our freedom in You and remember those for whom freedom was so costly a price to pay.
Leader: We remember those who were enslaved. We recognize that slavery tried to erase the humanity of so many of Your people – those who were enslaved and those who brutalized and dehumanized others, not realizing the cost for their own souls. Lord, have mercy!
Congregation: Forgive us, O God. Help us to always treat one another as we want to be treated and to, above all, recognize that we are all created in Your image and likeness. We remember today. In Your mercy, O God, hear our prayers.
Leader: We reflect on the gift of freedom today and the many ways that the struggle continues. We lament those who are still treated as less than Your very own as we recommit to fight for freedom and dignity for all of Your people.
Congregation: Help us, O God, to be courageous in fighting for justice and righteousness for all of Your people until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream!
Leader: We celebrate today! For freedom has come and will come again. For those in cages at our borders, for those locked up in jail cells away from their families, for those who are caught up in human trafficking, for those living without clean water, for those trapped in the bondage of an opioid addiction – God as we celebrate freedom today, help us to continue the fight for freedom across the global village in every form and in every way.
Congregation: We celebrate FREEDOM today! We celebrate with renewed determination, knowing that our work is not done and our task has not been fully accomplished until all of God’s children are truly free from
ALL: We remember, we reflect, we celebrate this Juneteenth. Thank You, O God, for reminding us that freedom is possible, necessary and a promise from You.
Permission is granted for the use of this responsive reading if proper credit is given to Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, COO, National Council of Churches.