Telling the Whole Story: Black History is American History with Rev. John C. Russell from University UMC-Indianapolis IN
Bishop Julius C. Trimble is the Resident Bishop of the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church.
Bishop Trimble has the personal mission to encourage all people with the love of Jesus Christ to rise to their highest potential. It is his commitment to his personal mission that led Bishop Trimble to create the “To Be Encouraged” Podcast along with co-host Rev.Dr. Brad Miller.
Bishop Trimble says, “I am compelled by Jesus to share with you an encouraging word or two about Jesus, theology, the Bible, the pandemic, the environment, racism, voting rights, human sexuality, and the state of the United Methodist Church.”
To Be Encouraged with Bishop Julius C. Trimble is to be published weekly and is available at www.tobeencouraged.com and all the podcast directories.
On Episode 048 Bishop Trimble welcomes as his guest Rev. John C Russell, Jr the Senior Pastor of University UMC - Indianpolis IN. Both Bishop Trimble and Rev. Russell share their thoughts on how in order to tell the whole story of American history you must also tell the story of black history. This leads into a conversation on church revitalization and mission as Rev. Russell told the story of the impact that University UMC is having in its community by elevating lay leadership, working collaborating with other churches and partnering with the police and other community organizations.
Our special guest today is Reverend John C. Russell Jr, the senior pastor of university, United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, a church that's growing and thriving are under some sometimes challenging circumstances. And we're going to be having some conversation about growing and thriving in circumstances and also about Black History Month and Bishop treble will help welcome our special guest to the podcast today. A welcome pastor brother, John Russell, I had a chance to worship with him periodically and most recently, on a Sunday, the last Sunday Black History Month. And I just want to thank you for the powerful message. No need for defense from the from the book of Nehemiah. So it was a great read. Welcome to the podcast. And we look forward to your, your contribution with us today. Man, good morning. Thanks for having me. I really like to always start things off John by just let us learn a little bit more about you and yourself, your own faith journey, a little bit about how you came to Christ in the first place, and how it transpired to be called into ministry and eventually leading you to university you MC in Indianapolis, my big walk began actually in the Wesley Foundation in South Mississippi. I was there at Southern Mississippi, the Western Foundation had United Methodist Church, some women, they would come to our campus every Wednesday, I believe, mostly feeding us because we were kind of young college guys. So we ate ourselves to death with tons of baked products. That relationship really shifted to the max and goes to teach Bible studies allowed us to walk in prayer moments. And they really became mothers and grandmothers in our college experience and opened up the door for many of us. Actually, all of us who was the foundation are now serving churches in some capacity, be it in the Methodist church or other denominations. And so that Wesley Foundation that college experience, a created avenue into a church, a spiritual walk that was really unexpected. I live in South Mississippi horse continued work at a church in South Alabama, which was the Alabama, Alabama was Florida conference. And I stayed there serving for about eight years St. John United Methodist Church. It from there actually made it up here to Indiana and Oh, but it has been great experience coming here. My great, great poor relationship that I had with the superintendent who I knew well who actuallyRev. John C. Russell, JR:
spoke to me about university and conference before I came. Dr. Fulbright has been a great mentor in ministry, opening doors and offering opportunities of what God is calling me into the season. And I really feel that I have walked into that space into the conference here as we continue to work and serve your university.Brad Miller:
Well, Bishop I know you really were struck by the sermon that that Pastor Russell gave from Nehemiah regarding Black History Month and had some of the things you really wanted to on your heart that you want to talk to him about.Bishop Julius Trimble:
Yeah, let me just first say that I that I am possessed by a vision of a greater United Methodist Church. Some people want to talk about disaffiliation. I want to talk about Jesus. So I'm possessed by a vision of greater United, great a United Methodist witness that is so in love with Jesus, that it literally shakes the world. And I see that happening in a variety of places. I was recently in Peru, Indiana, and Peru Mainstreet and then was at the Metro ministries breakfast on the east side of Indianapolis and Sunday, I was at two churches at university and St. Luke's both of them had powerful worship experiences and and did not skip over the fact that this was Black History Month, and I appreciated that. Appreciate it that university. The reason Black History Month is celebrated in February, is because when Dr. Carter G. Woodson began to promote this important, missing part of American history, in 1915, it was already it already had been celebrated in black and black communities, because it was the birthday month of Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass. So it really was introduced by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926. As Negro History Week, and academic scholars, particularly black academic scholars in major white universities and black universities, began to kind of take hold of it at night in the 1960s. And believe it or not, President Gerald Ford actually declared Black History Month in 1976. And the Congress passed a law in 1986, designating it February is Black History Month. But sometimes churches don't know how to embrace that particularly Brad and John within this current environment, people have become so angst so much angst about CRT and decide this, that and the other and forget, and you did a wonderful job in the recent Sunday, John reminding people that that our story is part of the story and part of American history. And to actually to neglect that is to is to rob, all children and adults from, from what we need to know. Can you say a word about you started off with a litany I didn't remember of all of the governors and so forth, who are trying to do away with pieces of that, can you just let our listening audience know a little bit about what's under attack in this country now, and what moved you to preach from Nehemiah, around the importance of telling our story and the story and how our story is so important. Of course, the god story is well,Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
in my sermon for Sunday, reminding people the importance of what we experienced as persons of color ended up here is that our own history, our history is under attack. And I begin my sermon talking about Governor DeSantis made the decision to really reject this advanced placement course for African Studies. They are in Florida, and what that means for the persons who were there deal with it. In New Hampshire, it was a Spanish teacher who was so afraid to put a Black Lives Matter stuff inside her class. In Texas, we have people who felt as if that teaching African history or our black American history was so political, that they didn't want to introduce it into their, their class, or course, Oklahoma teachers began to think twice about using even white to describe to describe those persons who helped those persons who were in slavery. Years ago, when we start a litany like that, when we start talking about our experience, our our history, if we become afraid to be truthful, then we lose a fabric of who we are as a nation. One of the greatest things about our country is our own diversity and how we have risen from those types of ashes to be able to recognize each other, see each other, where we are, how do we grow from our past, be it good or bad. And so when we pull together, this sermon for Sunday, in our own experience, this becomes one of those moments where we must learn to celebrate all of our history, because it's not individual. But the reason why we have to hone in on African American or Black history is because it's really been taken away. And there's now a fear to say how do we even teach these this history, these moments, these expressions, when I also feel attacked, that becomes a real work for all of us, to where we can pull politics, out of our our life, but really celebrate who we are our diversity as as a nation hinges on the fact that we celebrate each other in our own differences. And so, you know, antarctic's When we began to look at out of Daniel, when we started looking at, you know, these young boys, who were wouldn't Nebuchadnezzar, you know, they are our acts to reject the part of who they are. And they don't do that. And so we can't reject our own history, because we can lose the part of who we are in the fabric that makes us great Americans, great. Brothers and sisters, as we celebrate all of our history,Bishop Julius Trimble:
when people were beginning to repulse against Black Lives Matter. And they wanted to get one and say, Oh, well, blue lives that all lives matter. All of that can be true at the same time, but let's not suppress the fact that, you know, when my house is burning down, we need to, we need to get some water on my house before we just start spreading water all across, across the neighborhood houses. So I really appreciated the way in which you also tied in the fact that if we're going to be faithful, we get we have to also be willing to put up with those who would, who would put hurdles often say, a brand and John that, you know, throughout history, they we have hurdles have been placed in front of people of the African diaspora. And pre brown, brown and black and people of indigenous people, hurdles have been placed in front of us. And we found a way to become world class hurdlers. So, so so that's one of the things that we've been able to over overcome. But one of the things that you said also Pastor John, was that we have to think about this as being woven into history throughout the year and, and throughout, you know, the stories continue to be at the, you know, the ended on a whole new generation of people, of poets and artists and, and scientists of every hue are contributing to, as Dr. King would say, move into the art of bending the arc towards justice. And so we think that that is one of the roles in which we play as persons of faith brand is to how do we move and bend the arc towards justice, and an essay towards Jesus as unapologetic Christians? Can you say a word of passage About the resurgence at university, I know, pastors, some pastors don't like to brag about their churches. But usually if you give them a little encouragement, it doesn't take much to tell people, you know, they have 1000 members on Sunday when they may have 400. But But I just want you to say at work, because it's it, there has been a measurable difference. I know Dr. For by the superintendent is, I've been there on Sundays, periodically before you came in after you came no disparaging on those who preceded you. But obviously, there's some things that have changed, maybe in terms of what I've seen, and maybe you could talk about your mission, your recent mission trip to Jamaica as well. And Brad, you may want to ask about that as well. Sure. What has changed, that seems to be more of a outward focus at the church. And I attribute that to you as a pastor I know it's never only just the pastor, can you say a word about your time at university and what has worked other people, other people want to know what works.Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
So, University has has been since I've been here, a it have been a strong church. It offers great bones when I when I came into the ministry. But a couple things that we did, when I first came on board was we began to take on a new branding for the church, how we identified the church. And for us, we really became more focused on what's happening outside of our community. Our vision statement, is to make sure that we are Christ centered and engaging disciples into mission. And so what we're doing is making sure that we are constantly connecting with those persons in our community. Even even so much so that we extend most of our ministries, we relaunched our outreach ministries in our in our missional groups, to make sure that everything that we do in our congregation incorporates those persons who are not members and members as well. I definitely take all the credit, we have a phenomenal memory that feeds into the fabric of our community, it's our hearts, eyes, they sing every Sunday, I give them a ton of credit for that, over the last three years University, we've seen an increase in our membership, baptismal numbers, as we have those persons who are baptized in our church, we are launching new ministries, continuously that feed to the need in our community, and not just ourselves. And also over this, this three to four year period, we've renovated spaces in our church to make sure that our congregation our worship space, meets the needs of our communities, where those persons who visit us for the first time. And actually while we're on the podcast, now we're in the middle of extending our entryway into the church. So we are actually in the middle of a church deal. Now hopefully, it'll be done around the beginning of August, as we can celebrate an opportunity for refacing our church as we have done many other spaces inside the building,Bishop Julius Trimble:
and make sure you invite your bishop.Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
We definitely we made it back from Jamaica, we took a team of 24 in partnership, Beth up at the jewel AME Church, crossroads, ame, and New Era Baptist Church, as we went to Kingston, Jamaica, and we supported not only some orphanages that's there, we worked with some small schools, and had an opportunity to teach and work in some local churches that was there. And this is major because a lot of times we always assume mission is for the people who we go to see. But really, again, is transformed our own ministry. We were on the airplane and traveling back to us and have had these conversations now. How can we reach our community in new ways here in Indianapolis? How can we strengthen missional efforts and community relationships within our own church? How do we disciple, you know, old school disciple? How do we just like what our family members, friends, our community, and how do we have a value into that? And it's important for congregations to be so woven and connected into the community? That becomes the power of a church. We've been having great numbers on Sunday. I don't know how many because no matter I never look back until I get up. And I'm always surprised. But it's been great. We haven't seen a decline in our ministries because we are more focused on what pulls our community together. And then what separates that's very important for us.Brad Miller:
So John, I was wondering, did you you mentioned your mission as a community connected also ecumenically with other churches, I think that's awesome as a piece of what you shared, where they're going to Jamaica as what have you found out some transferable principles from Jamaican folks are for the folks there, what they are doing that you can then relate or apply to your neighborhoods and in connection to the neighborhoods and mission outreach. They'reRev. John C. Russell, JR:
most definitely they actually had this Sunday school program that was there in one of the churches that were we serve. And it was so important to make sure that if there was a child in the neighborhood that was around, they wouldn't get the kids We will have programs for ourselves that are always inward focused. I mean, like the bishop says, maybe we need to steer this towards back to Jesus, but that Jesus home, it has to be in those kids, those adults, those seniors that are there, we went and dropped off food, and many healthy products for some of the seniors that was there. So in that one moment of serving the church, the community of being structured of how they want to make sure that they extend education, as far as the biblical teachings, it incorporated every age group for every person in the community. And so there was not a moment where a person who was in the community was not welcome. And every place we went, they offer food and Bishop, I hate myself to death. I want a lot of running, to catch up where I was. But it was important to realize that we couldn't help anybody unless we fed them. And so they were welcomed, because once they came, they receive fellowship, love and compassion and a connection. And so in our churches, we sometimes and I'm I speak to self, we will have so many inward focus programs, that we lose the fact that we're not connected with our community toBrad Miller:
say especially what are you hearing here in our conversation with with John and the folks at university? What are you feeling? What are you What southern struck really in your heart of hearts, about what you heard here, but in particular, what do you feel are space of transferable principles or some learnings that can be applied to that pastor or that struggling church, be they in an urban setting, like I know, university is or small town or even rural care. So the principles we could learn here,Bishop Julius Trimble:
I think one of the things we can remember a couple of things. One is that the church is the only entity, organization movement that was created for people who are not already inside. Sometimes we forget that. But when you think about the Great Commission, Matthew 28, always think about the work of Jesus. Yes, we do have to care for our members. But I think what happens is, once we have a membership, and more and more often in the West, and and, and other places in Africa, they have less of a problem, because they have less focus on the building, you know, on their on their their edifice, but we we have to invest part of the role of the pet John has been very effective that reminded people that the church has been created for people who are not already members, for our communities. And then as someone said, said, You know, we can we can transform the world simply by going to church, only by being the church and I think what university and other churches like that are realizing that how do we learn how to actually be the church, going to Jamaica, often people probably think of Jamaica as being on the beach and having a good time and listening to some Marley, good Marley music. But but But you all you were there at a number of churches, they're actually being transformed even as you were participating in transformation to manage so So I think part of it is remembering that the church is really, really doesn't belong to me or to you, when we even when, what and what I like about the United Methodist Church, we have open communion, we say, Hey, you don't even have to be a member of this church or this denomination. Christ IN CHRIST invites us to the table. And so I really appreciate and sometimes it's easier said than done, right? We know that when we say we want to be out of focus. But I want you to make sure you've been on Sarah when she's in the hospital. And I want you know, I want to make sure that people don't just come sit in my pew,Brad Miller:
you've met we've mentioned several kind of good positive things here. But the reality is John Bishop, we live in some challenging times. We live in a time where there is rampant racism, and you've spoke about it at some of the governmental entities, governors is so wanted, it's permeated school systems and local governments and local neighborhoods, local churches, it's permeated all those places. Just this morning, just this morning, I happen to notice four or five shootings, we all three of us live in Annapolis difficulties everywhere. And we got let alone all the challenges we have are in our United Methodist Church with disaffiliation over sexual issues and so on. John, I just like you to speak to how a church can speak these words, these prophetic words you get from Nehemiah and other place in such such times as these.Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
Wow. So for our congregation today. And so I put a little pause here. I do serve as the chief chaplain for the Indianapolis Police Department. Since I've been here, I started off as a volunteer and ended up going into that role as the lead for the unit. But as we look at rising suicide rates in Indianapolis, as we look at Homicide numbers, the truth is all persons all races all genders are affected by this. And for the church, there has to be a response. And I may not know what that answer may be. But I do know that at some point, we who are the church have to find ways to connect back with our community, to let people see that there is a value in their own life, it is almost impossible to love your neighbor if you don't love yourself, because you may not know what love is. And so those persons who do not have relationship with God, those persons who do not have relationship with Christ, they should start somewhere and at least have relationship with someone inside the church. You know, every every day, I see or receive information or persons who have lost their life for violent crimes, or were been attacked. And that feeds into our community, a level of of sadness, it fear, and it stops growth. But, you know, there, I don't think that there is a complete remedy for this. But I do think that there is a response from the church. And I think the church has to be engaged in in their community, the church has to be engaged with those who are hungry, those who are dealing with house fires, those who deal with suicides, and be able to at least connect people to resources that say, you may be dealing with depression, and we may not have the skills to help, but we can connect you with somebody who can help you, we can't leave our folks anywhere. One of the biggest reasons that motivated me to really work with IBD was during the pandemic, I realized that there were more people who looked like me who were dealing with suicide, there were families who will be left behind. And there was young black men and young white men and young Hispanics, who was shooting each other carelessly. And it has to be responsible to church. And so going out talking to those families, letting them know that we see you we care, we pray, regardless of how you feel, became major for me. And even even today, that is a work that continues because there is something that the church is fighting. And I'll be honest, I've not spent one day thinking about disaffiliation. But I want to make sure that I'm resolving those who are broken, hurting in the parish, the community that I'm calling to serve. That has been my our focus for our congregation is God is strengthened in our church, and we see the fruits of our labor, but we have to focus on on on what's the main thing, and that's that people know Christ, that people come to a relationship to be saved, that people know that the church is not dead. And we cannot experience a dead church, I only know what church that has been thriving, I have never served a church, a moment where I feel that God was powerless, we are always victorious in our victory, I need somebody else to be with me, I don't want to get to the pearly gates by myself. And I don't want to just be there with my patients. So we have to find ways to reach out and reaching out isn't reaching out to black and brown is to everybody, every zip code has a major issue that needs help. And the church is a response to that, you know, when we have crime and hate the response to that is the word of God, the gospel music and the gospel context. So there is a response that we have, but we have to be able to focus on on that. And I think sometimes there becomes a cloud that distracts us for what God is calling us to do. But we're very focused on that. And I'm excited to have a team here at university and partner, partner churches. We partner with Scott UMC, a lot, miss out on the east side. And so we're just excited of how we can collab with other congregations because I may not have everything, but together, we all have it to work out. And that's our joy,Bishop Julius Trimble:
Pastor John, what do you do to feed your own soul? And you know, my wife, if she was listening? She would say, she'd be asking this question. Because if you don't fill your cup, you have nothing to share. If you don't care for the temple that God has given you, I mean, do you work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, I may be in a chapter for the police department at pastor or university.Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
The first thing I do is I keep a solid relationship with my family. We are a very close family. Most of y'all know I'm from the south. I enjoy hunting. And so when hunting season came in, I'm in the woods inside of a tree looking for some some beer somewhere. But those my god moments, also I take time for physical care. So I work out a run almost every day every morning, actually, I was in the gym this morning, before we all got together. physical care and taking time for self is so important. But I scheduled myself on my calendar every day that I can as if it's a meeting, because if I didn't, it's easy to become overwhelmed with church building projects, preaching on Sundays, multiple Bible studies, chaplaincy work, people who are passing away all those things, but I can help anybody from that well, and the other side of self care is making sure you have a team around You inside your church that's able to support the vision of the church in what you're doing. But also the stepping in when they noticed, and will call you out to say, Hey, we got your back. When we traveled out to Jamaica, you know, our our late ministries here at the church did all of our studies, they preached on Sundays, and nothing stopped. And that was the greatest part about being in a church where you have developed strong leadership. And I'm excited. We have about 24 Lay servants in the church. We have speakers. And anytime that they say, Pastor, you need to sit down. They don't just say sit down, they sit down, we got it. And no seams are important because we were called in this together. But the bishop, you're definitely right. It seems like everyday, something's happening. But I definitely make time to schedule for myself. But normally, in my winters, you always know I will be gone for at least a week or so. Inside a tree in South Mississippi, hoping I get the next prize. So I'm always excited about my editing.Bishop Julius Trimble:
Are you shooting wild turkeys deer? Or what are you shooting a little thing?Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
A little bit of everything. So we do big game. So we love whitetail deer. And actually, this year, I had one that was almost a trophy, but he had a broken ankle. So I was a little mad about that. And so no, no, no mountain this year. But I think you know, I think between me my father, we had about 11. So we got to all this across.Brad Miller:
Our theme is encouragement here on this podcast and Bishop I just like to hear what you are encouraged by by our conversation here today. And John, I like to hear word what encourages you about the state of the church and about where we're at on things. SoBishop Julius Trimble:
I'm just like that, you know, what, what, what brings you joy? You know, Jesus, sometimes we forget, sometimes Jesus was unavailable, we ought to preach a series about that. Maybe, Pastor John, you can do that. You know, all of the times when Jesus was on a video, they were looking for Jesus. So Jesus was unavailable, or to say he went away to pray, or he went away to stay. And so I think being out of it, but what what are the things that bring you joy, and particularly, given so much happening in the world? We could we could easily become discouraged. What encourages you?Rev. John C. Russell, JR:
My My encouragement that I find here on in Indianapolis, many of you know, we have no I don't, you know, I don't have any family up here. But there has been a great relationship with just the congregation here, and local, local clergy, and working together, watching our congregation, our church, work with other congregations has been a great joy. And to see really walls of division that separate some of our denominations, and some of our churches fall apart as we work together. Yeah, I love it. We have partnered with quite a few churches here inside the city, bringing our congregations together, and city entities. And it has been wonderful to really sit back and see that there's more that pulls us together than separates us. But besides that I have joy of just having great teams. And, you know, you wake up every day, and you're excited to know that you're, you know, impacting the world what God is calling you to be, you know, I came into the office this morning. And to see that, you know, the folks here at University are trying to outplay me and some things that we do now. So they're always working to me, they're they're meeting the needs of what's there, and they're so engaged with what's happening. And it's great, it's enjoyed, and I see more success, I see more power, more love and compassion than I allow myself to take in those things that are not well, we don't always harp on what's what's tearing us up. But man, sometimes we really got to focus on what brings us joy in life in light. And it's really that it's loving my neighbor as myself and I love me say, John, so I need to love my neighbor, same and so and bring people on board and now we're visiting How can we be even more of an impact in our community? How can we share more love and how can we use our own resources, not just money? How can we be a part of our community by of ourselves, and that brings my congregation joy. We have a large field you know, we sit on seven acres of land. And last year we celebrated having a soccer field us although a woman's I mean we have almost 200 kids running around kicking soccer balls, family showing up and that brings us joy seeing kids outside playing not in trouble seeing mothers and fathers here celebrating with us and seeing our congregation supporting those efforts. Just because we can't get the most denominations and more most churches it's not even the money side. And we have to kind of really begin to use the fabric of who we are to transform our neighborhood because then it makes us happy.Brad Miller:
Well Bishop we always give you the last word what is encourages you about young dynamic clergy like John Russell in churches like university and in the context of Black History Month, what is encouraging to you?Bishop Julius Trimble:
Well, I'm encouraged by Some of the messages that are lasting and sustained and I think about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, saying that Hate cannot drive out hatred. Only light can do that. I mean, Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. And he cannot drive out hate only love can do that. So I'm inspired by those who are committed to loving God and loving neighbor Thomas writes in Psalm 18, I love you, oh Lord, my strength, The Lord is my rock and my fortress, my deliverer, My God, my rock, whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. And so I call upon the Lord who was worthy to be praised. And so I shall be saved from my enemies. So I think, you know, I'm a, I'm encouraged by worship, and witness. And I see that happening all across the state of Indiana and across the globe. People who are followers of Christ, we don't give up on on on people, and we don't give certainly we're never gonna give up on God because God is faithful. So I'd like to say to those who are listening, you know, to be encouraged. As you journey through 2023 Your life is valuable. God loves you. There's nothing you can do about that, but receive that love and share that love with other people. So I counted all joy to be blessed by pastors like John Russell and congregations, like university and many, many other churches that are engaging their communities without apology with the love of Jesus Christ.