COMMAnts from the Conference Minister – September, 2015

“Creating a Surplus of Love”

Rev. Shari Prestemon
Do we have a “deficit of love” in our nation? A call to the Church to transform that deficit into a surplus of love…

The last several days have been a time of sober remembrance for me. August 29 marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that decimated our nation’s Gulf Coast region and overturned countless lives, including my own.

Back then, I was serving as Executive Director of Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi. My ministry following the hurricane became one of leading massive recovery efforts – of Back Bay Mission’s own facilities and services and of the poorest neighborhoods along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The months and years after Katrina were often horrific and immensely challenging, on professional and personal levels. It was also, though, a time when I was deeply privileged to experience the sweetest, most blessed fellowship of my life, and to witness the most amazing outpouring of love I have ever seen.

We in the United Church of Christ have a tremendous capacity to love generously, to serve selflessly, and to mobilize with sheer determination for the greater good.  All those years ago I personally witnessed how powerfully healing and transformative that can be. But it shouldn’t take a natural disaster to elicit that kind of response from us….should it?

Last week, Dr. Cornel West – activist, author, and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City – was interviewed by CNN in the wake of the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, the WDBJ reporter and cameraman murdered by a shooter who claimed he wanted a “race war”. When West was asked by the CNN reporter whether “race played a factor” in this event, he responded in part: “When you have a love deficit, you have a justice deficit…. The problem is we live in a society where people don’t give or get enough love.” He added, “They don’t give or get enough justice. They don’t give or get enough community.”

Is Cornel West right? Do we have a deficit of love, a deficit of justice, and a deficit of community in our nation?

In June, a single gunman killed nine people at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina after sitting with them in Bible Study. In July, Sandra Bland was found dead in a Waller County jail in Texas after being jailed for a dubious traffic stop that turned confrontational. In August, we marked the year anniversary of Michael Brown being shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The on-camera murders of the WDBJ reporter and cameraman in Roanoke, Virginia shocked us more recently. And weaving through all of it has been angry political rhetoric of a presidential campaign already begun in earnest that has made me often question the moral compass of our nation.

I think Cornel West was right: we are suffering from severe deficits of love, of justice and of community. But we who call ourselves faithful, we who call ourselves “church”, have it in us to turn that around and create a surplus of love. We can quell the rhetoric of hate with our own testimonies and concrete acts of love. We can root ourselves in our own prophetic tradition and raise a clarion call for justice for our neighbor. We can be the kinds of faith communities that stand in stark contrast to the disintegration of community we see all around us, by being authentic places of extravagant welcome inside and outside our church walls.

Our voices, our witness, and the examples we offer can be healing antidotes to what ails us in this country. Let us again – as we did ten years ago after Katrina – be the kind of Church where love abounds in surplus. I know we’ve got it in us.
Grace and peace,

Shari signature


Reverend Shari Prestemon, Conference Minister