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A charge to remember

In this last interview, Cannon articulates a thought, quoting Morrison: “there is always ‘a before’ that makes a beginning possible.” This afternoon, I charge you to re-member by recalling the “before” that makes this day possible.

This charge was originally given on March 6, 2022, for the dedication of the Katie G. Cannon Adult Education Room at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

In what would be her final interview, in January of 2018, Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon shared her story and insights from which this charge is inspired. In the conversation she attributes one of her thoughts to her friend, the late Toni Morrison (whose death was almost a year exactly before Cannon’s own).

In this last interview, Cannon articulates a thought, quoting Morrison: “there is always ‘a before’ that makes a beginning possible.” This afternoon, I charge you to re-member by recalling the “before” that makes this day possible.

I charge you to re-member — remember by recalling the humility embodied by Cannon who pointed us to the gift of those who helped shaped her journey. Those sung and unsung Black women and Black people willing to do — in the words of Cannon, “the work our souls must have.”

I charge you to re-member — remember by recalling the community who shaped Cannon. Her parents Mrs. Corrine and Esau Cannon and, among many teachers, her Grandma Rosie of whom Cannon referenced as her first teacher. For pastors and Sunday school teachers, for other relatives and friends this room points us to the great cloud of witnesses of whom God used to nurture Cannon in the character and charisma of Christ.

I charge you to re-member — remember by recalling the witnesses in this congregation who heard wisdom’s clarion call lifted from our Scripture this afternoon: people who offered time, talents, and treasures to create a room where the possibility of spiritual formation can ferment and be nurtured — spiritual formation which leads to people actively serving a just transformation in the world.

I charge you to re-member — remember by recalling the witnesses in this congregation, who stood in the prophetic tradition of people like Joan Trumpaur, a great grandchild of slave owners, who transgressed the laws of segregation, who became, as a White woman, a freedom rider and later an active officer in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, risking her life to do what Cannon did – to tell the truth and live the truth – that all of humanity is created in the imago Dei.

I charge you to re-member — remember by recalling and remember by re-constructing. Cannon spoke about the concept of remembering as Toni Morrison did and Morrison spelled it “re-member.” This idea of memory highlights the “membering” part, which points to an invitation to be part of God’s creative re-construction of the world as it should be. So re-membering not only happens in our minds and in our hearts, re-membering happens with the actions of our hands and our feet.

Therefore, I charge you to re-member — remember by recalling and remember by reconstructing. In the renovation process, the church disassembled some old things to usher in some new things. Such is our call: to disassemble some pieces of the world devoted to a Whites-only/ male-only kind of logic and practice; to dissemble what bell hooks calls imperialist-White supremacist heterosexist patriarchy and by God’s Spirit, reconstruct a new kind of beloved world of which our Savior bore witness.

I charge you to re-member — remember by reconstructing, receiving God’s invitation to follow Jesus in the co-creation of a just and beloved community. It takes courage. I’m reminded of the words of Cannon who warned us that the womanist way of being disrupts “the epistemological sea of forgetfulness.” To make it plain, Cannon would say “even when they tell us our truth is a lie, we tell the truth anyway.” Church, it’s not always easy to tell the truth and live the truth. It’s downright risky, but tell it! Live it! And re-member anyway because when we do, we join the work and witness of Jesus.

I charge you to re-member — remember by reconstructing in recognition that the construction of the room we dedicate today is not really complete

Until Black women are free from

all forms of race, class and gender oppression.

Until those in poverty have access

to the material and social capital that ensures
human well-being.

Until the service of justice and repair

(that’s love in the public square) is fulfilled.

Until we, as witnesses to the resurrection,

learn ways of being human together.

Until justice rolls down like waters

and righteousness as an ever-flowing stream.

Church, be ye steadfast, unmovable,

always abounding in the work of the Lord
(1 Corinthians 15:58) … and re-member!

Re-member by recalling those who made this day possible. Be for someone else the blessing that someone has been for you.

Re-member by reconstructing a community grounded in the love and justice ethic of Jesus Christ of whom Cannon served.

Cannon reminded us that the activity of re-membering is illustrated in the incarnation.

God re-membered.

God re-remembered when the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

For all those who will engage in this holy work, for all those who will engage in this gospel of Jesus’s work: we are charged, we are called, and the grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit shall be with us.

Amen.

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