By Priscilla Waters
I presently serve as the chair of the Social Action and Awareness Commission (SAAC), and am honored to take the privilege of thanking Reverend James Ross II for the tremendous contributions he has made to First Congregational United Church of Christ during his 4-1/2 years of service. Reverend Ross, or James, as he invites members to call him, has worked with staff, church members, and the broader community to craft and implement advocacy, volunteering, and education and worship programs that reflect the church’s priorities and community needs.
James’ work at First Church reflects his commitment to bringing together the community and First Church in our sacred space, to explore issues of racism and privilege. Under his leadership, First Church partnered with the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ, to host “Love in a Time of Xenophobia,” a community dialogue about how people from different religious or ethical traditions can work faithfully against xenophobia and racism in our society. In response to the police shooting of Michael Brown and others, James helped to invite the community to come to First Church for a “Service of Healing and Hope.”
James’ leadership in the Anti-Racism Task Force has supported the internal First Church exploration of race and privilege through the “White Privilege” discussions, and the establishment of a lending library to enable members to further explore these issues at their leisure.
James worked with other First Church leaders, the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), and our non-profit partner, Sasha Bruce, to establish and supervise the Downtown Drop-In Center for Homeless Youth, where young people are invited to rest, socialize, eat and connect with social services. James has tirelessly listened to and comforted them, often providing life-saving referrals for follow-on medical care.
James’ commitment to broader social issues has also been reflected in how he has marched with and helped to provide hospitality for both Women’s Marches, Reverend Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign and lead ministers as counter-protesters for the march to “Unite the Right,” and worked with Many Voices and Center Pride to develop their annual worship services.
James has always taken pains to share the theology grounding his activism as part of his responsibility for “Justice Formation” at First Church. Toward that end, he helped to host a retreat examining the teachings of Theologian Dr. Howard Thurman, and lead nurtures examining Thurman’s book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” His sermons are always thoughtful and sometimes thought-provoking! James has often initiated thoughtful Facebook discussions on a broad range of social issues, and enjoyed engaging in insightful face-to-face and email conversations with members. James has been a steady pastoral presence during his 4-1/2 years here.
Social Action and Awareness acknowledges that James’ selection to lead Pilgrim UCC in St. Louis, Missouri, is a great honor, and we congratulate him and wish him the best. Thank you, Reverend James Ross II for sharing your gifts with First Church for 4-1/2 years. We will miss you, but are inspired by your example to live into Dr. Howard Thurman’s reminder that:
When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with
their flock, the work of Christmas begins: …To find the lost, to heal the
broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart. Howard Thurman