Archaeological Discovery Helps Congregation Reconcile Past

Source: Presbyterian Mission

In the aftermath of a rain storm that resulted in flooding across Harrisonburg, Virginia, the archaeological remains of an enslaved structure were discovered near the heart of Trinity Presbyterian Church’s main campus.

Found during the process of flood cleanup buried under debris exposed by the flood waters cutting a path through the interior of the church’s antebellum house, the newly exposed structure, a brick wall, is believe to date to 1825 and to have been the worked on enslaved persons owned or leased by members of the  congregation. Upon making the initial discovery, the members of the cleanup crew were in shock.

A Matthew 25 congregation, Trinity Presbyterian Church is part of a growing network of Protestant churches working to eradicate systemic poverty, build congregational vitality, and dismantle structural racism.

Session member, Linda Bradley said, “We knew that wall had to remain exposed.”

Seeking to use the discovery as an educational opportunity, a pamphlet circulated about the significance of the wall and the role of enslaved artisans on many plantations. The pamphlet concludes calling the church to acknowledge its role in complicity of slavery and its current role in the work of justice and reconciliation. The pamphlet concludes, “This is also a wall of pain. This was a wealthy man’s wall when all wealth derived directly or indirectly from slavery … mindful that as Christians we are called to be agents of truth, justice and atonement. We knew that we would not hide it.”

“Our ministry had not been put into context, but now we were staring at a comprehensive picture,” Bradley remarked.

Using the wall to draw attention to the denomination’s  Special Committee on Racism Truth and Reconciliation, Trinity’s pastor Rev. Stephanie Sorge reminded the church the need for “a season of repentance for the church’s complicity in the horrific history and unjust treatment of people of color, which continues to this day.”

In response, the congregation created a Season of Repentance task force aimed at identifying ways to honor the contributions of enslaved people in the area and  develop a plan of action that allows the congregation to live out their Matthew 25 commitment to end systemic racism.

Bradley noted “This team will keep our Matthew 25 initiative before the congregation.”

Currently, Trinity Presbyterian is organizing a series of events and forums that will showcase the work the church is doing around Matthew 25 while being actively engaging in initiatives that work to end racism and promote dialogue.

Source: Presbyterian Mission