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  • Writer's pictureMennonite Women USA

Protest as Collective Worship

Several years ago, I was part of an organization in Philadelphia called New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), an immigrant led group that was trying to protect other undocumented immigrants. In 2016, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were increasing their home raids, NSM created a system whereby documented allies were called to the scene of a raid to begin holding a worship service on the street. The premise of this action was that since ICE does not enter houses of worship as a practice, they should not enter this holy ground either. 

It was hard to organize people from all over a large city to mobilize into one space within minutes, and ultimately the plan had to be scrapped. But the premise stayed with meour acts of protest are also acts of collective worship.  

Worship is when a community gathersusing ritual, song, silence, scripture, and prayerto turn our hearts and bodies toward God as we seek personal and corporate transformation. This is possible in marches and protests also, though it looks much different than what happens in our buildings on a Sunday morning.  

In 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, I went to a Black Lives Matter march with my teenage daughter and her friends. We were all feeling the anxiety of being in a large crowd in the midst of the pandemic. We didn’t know how to approach this action, but we knew we needed to attend.  

On the way to the march, I invited the teenagers to create some boundaries around this time together. We decided to stay together, follow the leadership of people of color in our midst, to be kind, and to tell each other what we needed. In addition, I invited them to practice ways of being present in the moment. We practiced taking big, deep breaths, and each had a word we would hold with us and return to when things felt overwhelming. 

We created a worship service together. 

I used the word “love” and returned to it often, as we marched in the hot summer sun. "Love" helped me to see everything we were doing as an act of love and an act of worship. We marched because we believe that God’s liberating love is for everyone.  

Every time I’m working in Palestine with Community Peacemaker Teams, I employ similar practices. I come up with a plan for safety and responsibility when we monitor the streets, so each member of the team has a clear understanding of our roles. And in the tension of monitoring checkpoints in the old city and responding to emergency calls, I always carry a piece of scripture or a bit of a song with me. It might be, “Mother, behold your son,” as I watch soldiers who are the same age as my son walk the streets with their automatic weapons. It humanizes them and me in this environment where folks can so easily be dehumanized. Or, if a day feels lighter, I might sing, “We are marching in the light of God.” Or if I’m feeling really anxious about what’s happening, I will sing, “How can we be silent,” which motivates me to put one foot in front of the other. 

These songs and scriptures become my meditation as I walk toward the things that scare me.

Marching and protesting have become a way of bringing worship into the street. The worship doesn’t look orderly in the way I practice on Sunday. In fact, it is quite unpredictable. And that is really good for me. Because worship should surprise us, scare us and open us to the wild Spirit calling us out of our comfort and into the liberating, unexpected good news Jesus brought to us.  

All of this is why, after being in Palestine on the day of the Hamas attacks and subsequent war on Gaza, I joined Mennonite Action. I didn’t know what else to do but get out on the streets with my hymnal and spiritual practices, and march. The alignment of our rituals and practices with our Christian beliefs and ethic find us in the streets, calling for a ceasefire, crying out for all those in Israel and Palestine that wait for their beloveds to return home.  

There’s no better place for worship than out in the streets, actively working towards the liberation of all God’s beloveds. It is why Jesus came–to give sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and hope for the poor. This is why I march. This is why I worship.  

Amy Yoder McGloughlin

Pastor, Frazer Mennonite Church

Delegation Leader, Community Peacemaker Teams


Mennonite Women USA values what all women have to say and Women's Voices blog is a space to honor their words.

Posts are reviewed for tolerance and respect but don't necessarily reflect MW USA's official position.

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