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Resources for Commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the Arrival of the First Enslaved Africans to North America


On August 25th, many churches and communities will be marking this quad-centennial of “Landing Day,”  a tragic event that ushered in four centuries of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and racism which persists today. The ELCA continues to grapple with its complicity in these injustices. The congregations of the Southwest California Synod are encouraged to use the liturgical resources below to remember and commemorate this anniversary on Sunday, August 25, 2019. More resources from the Disrupt Worship Project are available here.

To publish in the Sunday bulletin:

In late August, 1619, a ship landed on the shores of Virginia, on a continent known by its current inhabitants as Turtle Island.  This ship held humans that were kidnapped from their lands in Africa. Upon landing in the colony, these human beings, with broken hearts and bodies, were sold as enslaved people.  The world still feels the effects of this enslavement today. Some of us have much to atone for. Others have been without resources all along. What do some of us need to remember?  What might some of us need to study? What Black leaders can we learn from? In worship today, we will take seriously the memory of this first recorded ship full of enslaved humans sold into chattel slavery to fund what would become the US economy.  Some of us might feel angry, taken aback, or hurt that this would be part of the church service. Some of us came to church today to feel good and to forget about our struggles. At the same time, throughout history, people have used the words of the Bible to support slavery for 2000 years.  People are still enslaved in our world, often by people claiming to be Christian. It is essential that we recognize the historical role the church has played in this story of slavery. If you do not understand some of things in worship today, please check in with your faith leader using curiosity and openness. There are many resources we can use to help us in dismantling deeply racist systems in ourselves and our world, and ultimately, we follow in the steps of Moses and Jesus to live out our call as Christians who proclaim “release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed (Luke 8:18).” To get started on learning more, you can read Dear Church by Rev. Lenny Duncan, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, or Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. You can also learn more by visiting

Opening Litany:

One: God yearns for all to be free.

Many: God, we praise you.

One: God knows that many are still enslaved. God weeps with them.

Many: God, help us to work for the full humanity of all people.

One:  Jesus our Lord became fully human. He experienced suffering in solidarity with the oppressed.

Many: Lord Jesus, grant us your compassion and willingness to work for justice for all. 

One:  Where we would sow slavery and death, the resurrection brings freedom and New Life.

Many: Lord Jesus, thank you. 

One: Even today, when we use systems, economics, and laws to oppress one another, Christ stands with the oppressed and proclaims release to the captives.

Many: Holy Spirit, teach us to love our neighbor in word and action.  

One: As we continue our worship, may the Holy Spirit open us up to our history and the pain of our neighbors today. The Lord Be with You.

Many: And also with you. 

Prayer Petition for Prayers of the People:

Creator God, you created all humankind in your image.  On this day when we commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in Virginia, USA, we repent of not seeing all your people as made in your Holy Image.  We ask you to uplift and support all the descendents of slaves and to help us work for a just economic and social system, especially for those most suffering today from the continued effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, racially motivated violence, and mass incarceration.  Create in us, your church, the ability to work toward New Life together for all of your beloved children. Lord in your mercy,

C: Hear our prayer. 

Post-Offering Prayer:

God of abundance, as we gather our resources, help us dedicate them to your service and mission. Make us mindful of our economic systems which grant abundance to only a few and take the most from descendents of enslaved Africans.  Help us be a church that shares our resources wisely and works toward a more just distribution of your gifts. Bless us with contrite hearts willing to release that which we have taken. Bless us with confidence that our basic needs can be met even when we give back that which was never ours.  Prepare us to move forward with a renewed understanding of your abundance outpoured for all.

C: Amen 

Eucharistic Prayer:

Our God is one of freedom and salvation.  When the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians, and treated as chattel, God sent leaders to free them, like Miriam and Moses.  When Africans were enslaved in the United States, God sent leaders to work for freedom, like Harriet Tubman. The work of liberation continues to this day.  Through Jim Crow, sundown towns, redlining, unequal laws and policing, and mass incarceration, God weeps that we continue to hurt one another. At the same time, God has always raised up people from those who suffer to work toward a world where all humans have resources, hope, and justice.

Jesus is part of God’s story of salvation.  Jesus and his ministry threatened the religious and political authorities so much that they hung him on a tree in the shape of a cross.  The one we call Lord was a brown Middle Eastern man executed by the state and brought back to life by God. Throughout time and place, Jesus comes to us by dwelling deeply in the lives of the people who are treated the most unfairly. This new life comes through Christ's broken body to those whose bodies are being broken by the authorities today.  God raised our Jesus to New Life, and brings that New Life to us through this meal.

On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus sat down with his closest friends.  While sharing these final moments, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and broke it open for all.  He gave thanks and gave it for all to eat, saying, “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me.” Again after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of me.”

May this meal we share today be wrapped so fully by the Holy Spirit that we are inspired to be the leaders God calls us to be.  May we know the power of forgiveness and eternal life through this meal. May this meal bless us to follow our God who proclaims release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed.  May we live our faith worthy of the gifts God has given us.

As we remember the forgiveness, New Life, and power of our Triune God, let us pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray . . . Our Father, who art in heaven,

One: The table is open for all to know and to share in God’s quest for freedom. Some of us are invited to know that Jesus promises us New Life, even when the world hurts us.  Some of us are invited to look inside ourselves and use the strength of our faith to dismantle the systems that cause harm. All are invited to this table to find the Jesus who brings New Life.

Many: Thanks Be to God. 


Resource Authors: Rev. Jessica A. Harren, Rev. Jennie Chrien, and Ms. Jess Davis, MA