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  • Helms Jarrell

What the Funeral of the Empire taught me about organizing for liturgical direct action

Updated: Jul 13

This past Sunday, QC Family Tree hosted a Funeral for the Empire. This liturgical direct action was planned and facilitated by a collection of artists and creatives. The Funeral for the Empire experience included visual art, music, poetry, participatory reflection, food, and spoken word. It was a service of collective healing from oppressive entities (big pharma, poverty, racial injustice, gentrification, religion etc.) Through ritual, word, and actions, participants committed these forms of oppression to the ground to be buried for good.


I want to take a few minutes to reflect on how the Funeral for the Empire came into being and what this project has taught me. Looking back, there are several steps that took place.

  • Conversations with Spiritual Companions and Creatives

  • Sound the call

  • Collect ideas and passions

  • Make it easy and meaningful…yes, it can be both

  • Extend the Invitation

  • Make new connections

  • Celebrate

  • Apply what you learned to next time


Continuous conversation with Spiritual Companions and Creatives is essential to this kind of work. Prior to planning the Funeral for the Empire, I was having several conversations with QCFT staff, mentors, and community members. We were asking the questions, “What is needed right now? What can I/we do? Who can I ask to be a part of this work?” More specifically, I was asking questions about how to continue to grow Beloved Community Charlotte, the emerging faith community of which I am the pastor. I was also wrestling with internal and communal struggle over the deeply painful experiences of oppression and injustice in the United States and in our world. These conversations led to thoughts on authenticity, solidarity, expressing communal grief, and proclaiming “another world is possible!”


Initial conversations with creative companions provided the seed of an idea, an idea that was abstract and unconventional. Articulating an abstract and unconventional idea takes time and it requires several very rough drafts. To me, it is important to sound the call to others to participate early on in the process. I want to work collectively with folks. This means I tend to share the very rough drafts, the seed of an idea. I try to remind myself, over time and together we will get all the details hashed out. We will have time later to make all the words exactly perfect.


It is important to remember that when you invite folks to participate in leadership and planning, you must remain in “Yes, and…” mode. If the process is going to be collective, other folks get to shape and reshape the initial idea. For collective projects to work well, we must make room for new leadership to enter and emerge. Some of the very practical ways that I tried to leave room for leadership were: sharing recorded meetings with those that could not attend, giving access to all meeting notes, encouraging activity in open source brainstorming docs, calendar invites, and reminders. We communicated in multisensory ways so that everyone’s learning and working patterns could be honored: in person, zoom, text, open source documents, art making, and one on one conversations. Project leaders could contribute in a number of ways: art, writing, food, set up, playlists, supplies, program leadership, etc.


Using these practical tools, we collected initial ideas and passions that served as fodder for our collective planning process. The fodder for the Funeral of the Empire included reading resources, learnings from our past, quotes from inspirational people, personal stories from participants, and art from multiple disciplines.


The Funeral of the Empire was a deeply meaningful experience. Even though it was complex and deep, that doesn’t mean it had to be hard. We kept the process easy by being realistic about our resources. We chose to engage in actions that were natural to our abilities and relationships. We made sure to invest in our own community members’ for catering, music, and promotion. We took the time to rehearse and co-create as we went along. We held loosely to our favorite ideas and outcomes so that when things were said and done, we walked away with joy rather than disappointment.


Once we had a clear picture of our event details, we extended the Invitation to the larger Charlotte community to participate. We used eventbrite, social media, word of mouth, and conversations to promote our event. We also chose from the beginning to partner with other organizations so that we could impact a wider audience. Folks from Beloved Community Charlotte and students from the Stapleton Davidson internship and Covenant Presbyterian internship made plans to join us. We met our expected number of participants with fifty people in attendance. Each of the folks in leadership made a point of making new relationship connections. We also distributed a brochure with calls to action so that when folks went home, they could continue to reflect, learn, and act.


Throughout the process, we made sure to celebrate. High fives to the young boy for reading the poem aloud, big thank yous to the band members for the excellent choice of songs, thank you to the volunteers who helped move chairs! We continue to circle back, saying thank you and celebrating the collective experience of courageous community lamenting and celebrating with one another.


Looking ahead, there may be opportunities for us to engage in liturgical direct action in October as we dedicate and bless children of Beloved Community Charlotte. All Saints Day in November may also be an opportunity to conceive of liturgical direct action. As we move toward these important liturgical occasions, I will return once more to conversations with spiritual companions and creatives. Along the way, I will give gratitude for the ways in which these conversations shape our next steps.




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