By Francisco Herrera
Block parties are one of the many distinct things I love about the United States. Other parts of the world have similar outdoor celebrations, packing streets with food and music and people seeking a little bit of fun, but the American Block Party is truly different - mostly because they tend to be relatively informal get-togethers that aren't so much interested in drawing outside attention as they are having people in a neighborhood get to know each other.
One of my favorite passages and all of the Bible is in 2 Samuel - the famous, or infamous depending on who you ask, scene when David is celebrating with the people of Israel after the return of the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6:16-23). Seeing him get his groove on in such a way that the party is can see under his tunic really makes his wife, Michal, very angry, but he didn't care. And yeah maybe it's a little bit embarrassing, nobody wants to be one of those people with a compromising YouTube video of their party performance plastered on everyone's Facebook wall.
Yet David had a point, too. With the beginning of his reign, the people of Israel had won a major political and religious victory, and by returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem the Israelites had cast off what had been years of oppression by Philistine neighbors. And in such a situation, getting down and having a good time is not only expected, but even healing, even if David and company got a little bit loud and vulgar.
Thankfully, though, no one at any of the block parties got vulgar – but we all had a good time. And thanks to camera phones and Facebook Live, Gethsemane’s fans on social media had a chance to share in the joy.
Because first of all there was the food. And lots of it. Barbecue was the norm, especially grilled chicken (though this last weekend pork ribs from FireBox Deli certainly were welcome). Even nicer was watching these teams of grill chefs – mostly men – quietly size each other and their cooking skills up against one another – occasionally making playful jabs and taunts and giggling like children in a water balloon fight. Then there were all the folks helping to prepare sides – salads and curries and fruit – usually huddled in Gethsemane’s kitchen up-and-away from the grills and the smoke.
And the singing - oh my goodness, the singing! Minister Beverly certainly knows how to belt out all the old greats, and every time started off the marchers down Colfax with her gracious strut anyone within earshot couldn’t help but be moved and start along. Likewise when Minister Sims, one of the co-pastors at New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, filled in for Beverly one day when she had to take a day off, he strolled down that street singing as fully and as beautifully as anyone ever could - sharing the call and response hymns that saturated his life in his home state of Alabama.
Children also played an enormous part - though not always obviously so. The folks at The Camden Kids Day Care frequently gifted the smallest block party revelers with that magical magnet of childhood mischief - a bouncy house. And true to form the children came, from all over, and their running around added a lightness to the day. Other children played basketball, some threw a football back and forth, while others made games and merriment out of any little thing they found - my favorite being jumping over the aluminum ribs of Gethsemane’s revival tent roof frame as about a dozen grown-ups carefully disassembled it on the last day.
But of course the best part was the relationships. There were seven congregations that came and collaborated with Gethsemane Lutheran in some way or another. Pastor Aaron of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church came down three times in order to bake bread from a handmade brick oven, and their Holy Smoke grill team blessed everyone with amazing pulled pork. The beautiful souls of Nu Way Missionary Baptist Church - and their BBQ Grill wide and long enough to cook about 35 lb of chicken at a time - always made a welcome sight for the afternoons. Intertwine, an ELCA Mission start from Northeast Minneapolis, provided performers as well as sound equipment on half of the Saturdays. The good people of our mission partner, New Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, and Bishop Divar Kemp were our constant companions and supporters in both the spiritual and practical parts of the events. Pastor Malachi brought the blessed partnership of North United Methodist Church. And of course, every single one of these churches brought their fair share of marchers and leaders as we moved purposefully but joyfully through sites of Lind-Bohanon's pain - praying and singing and weeping and begging God to transform us into repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets (Isaiah 51:12).
And being part of a community, in the first part of the summer of 2018, that was brought together as a consequence of tragic acts of violence and pain - it was fitting that six acts of love and community would be the unequivocal response. Six marches that brought music and prayer up and down the block. Six groups barbecuing and grilling, the scent of which permeated an entire neighborhood and welcomed everyone to a feast. Six distributions of food that attracted people from all over Minneapolis, not just our little corner in the north. Problems in the neighborhood may still remain, but for the time being resilience, love, and togetherness also remain, and it was Gethsemane’s great honor, and great pleasure, to be the vehicle for such a blessing. Such love.
Martin Luther said that God doesn’t need our works but our neighbors do – and with our neighbors we have been able to testify to the wonder-working power of the Gospel in a way that we had never been able to before. And for this, we can be thankful. For this, we have earned the right to sing and praise.
And so for this, can we get an amen?