Willis Johnson, announced the establishment of the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice at Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson, which he pastors. The church was at the epicenter of demonstrations and unrest that erupted in the days after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police office in August 2014, and has continued to work toward resolving the tensions in the community.
“There is a need to establish a space where social issues can be incubated,” he said. “We want to create a space where folks can come in who may not know the gospel as we know it, but who are looking for the good news.”
He asked for annual conference support in the following areas: to acknowledge that there is stuff in the world and in the church that isn’t right; that we at least move to a place where we respect and respond to otherness and maybe decide to take action in a loving and just way; and support efforts to create a place to learn together and to grow together, “The Missouri Conference can sew the seed that can grow into a fruitful harvest,” he said.
In August 2011, Wellspring opened at the site of the former Ferguson United Methodist Church. “We opened our doors to people with no background in church or United Methodism. On this past August 9, by fault of our geography, we were beckoned into service at the intersection of hurt and hope,” Johnson said. “For almost a year, we have tried to be present in a time of trouble and to offer hope.”
He recognized the collective and connective help that has contributed to the efforts in Ferguson. But he warned the conference that the work is not yet done. “ We as a church, local, and beyond, sometimes at our worst, look like the very systems we critique and challenge with a prophetic voice and witness. I say that to challenge you because Ferguson is not over, and it did not start in Ferguson.”
“I am not here to celebrate what we have accomplished but to say we have work to do,” He continued. said. “The truth is, I’ve come here this morning to ask for your help. There are people who don’t care about God, but who know it’s not right. They know there’s got to be a better way and that love is needed.” For this reason the Center for Social Empowerment and Justice has been established to continue the work in Ferguson and beyond.