By Tom Ehrich
I am sorry to see the citizens of Ferguson, MO, going through such difficult times. Shootings and protests have scarred an entire city.
I once served there as rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, a fine congregation in what I recognized then as a troubled and yet fine city.
Racism has been a huge issue for decades in St. Louis County. Race often determines where people live, how they feel about where they live, and therefore how they feel about themselves.
Change has been the other big issue. Resistance to change has happened at every level, from housing to city hiring to schools to churches to neighborhoods.
During my time at St. Stephen's, even the slightest divergence produced a large reaction, often negative at the start and then accepting, for they were caring and forward-thinking people. But it was never a casual process of adaptation because change itself seemed so disconcerting.
Those two factors -- racism and resistance to change -- seem to have come together in recent shootings and protests in Ferguson. I know too little even to have an opinion about what happened. The scene has a troubling familiarity, however, as a person with power guns down someone without power.
In a sense, Ferguson is a microcosm of our troubled nation as a whole. Not because the citizens of Ferguson are flawed or failing, but because they are living in a storm, the very storm that is sweeping our land. That storm seems larger than even the best of us. Look at how many white Americans still cannot accept having an African-American man as President.
I recall my first funeral procession in Ferguson. I rode with the undertaker, a long-term resident and church member. When I asked why we didn't have a police escort clearing the way, he explained that St. Louis County has 92 municipalities, some large and some small. They are kept separate from each other and from the City of St. Louis, he said, in order to retain local control of police, fire and school operations -- a desire driven largely by race.
In such a setting, injustice and resentment flourish.
St. Stephen's and its Presbyterian neighbor across Clay Street worked hard together to nurture a more tolerant and inclusive spirit. I understand that those efforts have expanded even more in recent years. It was painful to see a video this morning in which the current rector stood beside food pantry shelves that are bare today because unrest outside prevents their shopping for supplies
We have a lot of work to do in the US. Dealing with race and change tops the to-do list.