The Wesleyan Church emerges from a lineage of Christians who believe holiness is both personal and social. Even as we engage in practices — like Scripture-reading, prayer and tithing — that nourish our own alignment with God, we also work in our communities through tangible ways of loving our neighbor. Wesleyans’ ongoing work advocating for immigrants, individuals in prison and those experiencing poverty reminds us that we embrace our heritage by taking compassionate action.
The past several months have offered ample opportunity to practice our heritage of social holiness, with more people displaced and vulnerable at the hands of COVID-19 and with the death of George Floyd shining a light on the importance of re-examining the pervasive effects of systemic racism. Through policy and relationships, Wesleyan churches have the opportunity to help their communities nourish the image of God in their neighbors.
Bishop Mocc Rodgers is a church planter in Painesville, Ohio, and operates a community resource center in the nearby town of Mentor. Rodgers’ connectedness to both communities helped him see the broad-reaching impact of Floyd’s death — especially in Paynesville, where 40 percent of residents are black or Hispanic.
“When people have nowhere else to turn,” Rodgers said, “that’s when a lot of people turn to God or religion … a pastor friend of mine who has a church right on the square — she sat on the church steps, and several protestors came up to her and asked her questions and were seeking answers to certain things. That gave her the opportunity to minister to them and open the door toward salvation to them. We’re finding more unchurched people looking to the church for answers.”
Listening to the hurts and longings in this community helped Rodgers see how the gospel could offer a way forward in grief, contemplation and action. “The gospel has shed a very, very bright spotlight on what’s going on … now that the light is shining on a worldwide level, that gives us the opportunity to speak into what the Bible says … we are all one in Christ.”
After a protest on raising awareness for police reform, Rodgers realized that few protestors knew what the next step toward lasting change might be. Seeing this problem, Rodgers said, “We wanted to break bread with the sheriff and talk about that.”
Rodgers’ lunch with the sheriff’s department was met with gratitude. Rodgers and the sheriff had a conversation about the challenge of corruption in law enforcement, and how they might work together toward lasting policy changes that hold offending officers accountable for their action, and toward greater care and relationship between churches and police.
After the lunch, the sheriff gave Rodgers his personal cell phone number. Rodgers is working with other community leaders, pastors and police representatives to form a task force surrounding equal justice in their community.
For those of us in the pew, Rodgers reminds us of the importance of speaking up for justice within our communities: “Silence is violence — a lot of times, inadvertently, people don’t see how they contribute to the problem,” he said. “They can point the finger: ‘this is what’s going on, that’s what’s going on,’ … but before some churches could speak into the black lives matter movement or anything within the community, they need to ‘get the plank out of their own eye,’ before they go out and try to help others.”
As Rodgers’ continues to work to foster vibrant relationships and just systems, he invites us to find ways of contributing in our own communities: serving, praying, mentoring and — in a time marked by an unwillingness to hear — listening.
“We have just entered a new age in the world as well as the Church,” said Rodgers. “We as the Church need to pray for healing as well as set up a healthy dialogue to break down cultural barriers that exist inside so that we can be the light to the world outside.”
“Bishop Mocc Rodgers has a contagious passion for Jesus that spills over into his love for people and the community,” said Rev. Les Crossfield, district superintendent of the Greater Ohio District. “He is an amazing motivated leader with incredible vision. His kingdom mindset never rests, and it is a privilege to do ministry with him. We are blessed to have him on the Greater Ohio team.”