St. Paul UMC Repents for Past Racial Injustice with a Public Visual


By Rebecca Wallace
On Jan. 18, this year’s day of honor and remembrance for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, St. Paul UMC in Atlanta’s Grant Park unveiled a new plaque on its building. Posted just beneath the building’s cornerstone, the plaque and its message came out of a study done in the summer of 2020 as members tried to educate themselves on the racial injustice happening in our society, in hopes that they would then pray for, and work towards, bringing about peace and justice.
Inspired by the example of the North Georgia Conference leadership and Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson, the group accepted that the church’s failures had perpetrated systemic racism in its community and across the country. In response, members decided to make a public statement that acknowledges the church's role in contributing to systemic racism and that announces its intention to repent and start the process of reconciliation.
“The plaque explains the church’s part in perpetuating racism and our hope and desire to learn and grow and repent so that we can be a part of the solution and walk in the ways that lead to Christ,” said Rev. Cassie Rapko, St. Paul UMC’s pastor. “Our journey is not over, but we felt that in order to move forward, we had to take a good hard look at our past. This is the beginning of our work, not the end.”
The church’s cornerstone was laid in 1906 when St. Paul UMC was a part of a Methodist Church still divided by slavery and segregation. It remains a stark public reminder of this and the fact that St. Paul was on ‘the South’ side of the Methodist Church.
Bill McKinnon was a member of the working group and said: “We intentionally placed the plaque below the cornerstone because we want those who see them together to understand that we recognize we cannot erase our history, but that we are seeking a different path forward.”
The plaque reads:
“When founded, this congregation was a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, a splinter Methodist denomination formed specifically for condoning slavery and resisting abolition. Through a series of mergers, this congregation became a part of the newly formed United Methodist Church in 1968. The mergers were incomplete steps in the denomination’s efforts to address racism in the Church. In 2020, both the North Georgia Conference of the UMC and St. Paul UMC formally acknowledged and repented their roles in perpetuating the sin of racial inequality. Motivated by undeniable evidence of continuing racial injustice in our society, St. Paul UMC pledged to educate itself further about racism, white privilege, and ongoing systemic racist policies, and to work intentionally to eradicate these sins from our existence.”

Rebecca Wallace is a Communications Consultant (and United Methodist) in Atlanta.