Churches across the United States are hosting events to celebrate Juneteenth, which celebrates the official end of slavery in the country after the American Civil War.
The holiday centers on the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when Union troops entered Galveston, Texas, and implemented the Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued in 1863.
Also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day or Liberation Day, Juneteenth holds an especial significance this year as, with strong bipartisan support, it became the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983. On Thursday, President Joe Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth a national holiday.
Garfield Memorial Church of South Euclid, Ohio, which has celebrated the holiday before, will be hosting a communitywide event, partnering with city officials and others.
Chip Freed, lead pastor at Garfield Memorial Church, told The Christian Post that they will highlight “black-owned businesses and vendors,” have a “tent for building bridges conversations,” as well as family activities, various performances and a “kickball with the cops” sporting event.
“We are a national teaching church in the Mosaix Global Network seeking to build more healthy multiethnic churches in an increasingly polarized society,” Freed said.
“We have 1,200 active members with no one ethnic group comprising more than 52% of our congregation. We highlight all cultural celebrations as we are able.”
When asked by CP what he hopes people take away from the event, Freed responded that he wants to see “a sense of historical awareness” as well as a “spirit of reconciliation.”
Gail Bouffard of Manchester Church of Christ, located in Manchester, Connecticut, told CP that her congregation would be holding their first-ever Juneteenth observance on Saturday.
“Our congregation here in Manchester has historically been predominantly a white one, but more recently that isn't the case. Observing Juneteenth is one of the ways that we hope will demonstrate our sincere desire to be unified in Christ,” she explained. “Our sister congregation, the Northside Church of Christ, has been co-planning this event with us, and it has been a time of learning and listening for us.”
Bouffard also told CP that the churches were praying that they “will provide an event that helps give both the history of and context for Juneteenth, through the lens of faith, while also providing us with one more avenue for expressing faithful unity in Christ.”
Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Montclair, Virginia, will be hosting a virtual event known as the Juneteenth Poetry Jam, which will feature Kim Miller, the first African American Poet Laureate for Prince William County.
Before the pandemic, it was common for Bethel AME to observe Juneteenth by traveling to Petersburg, Virginia, to tour the many historic African American landmarks.
The Rev. D. Melynda Clarke, pastor of Bethel AME, explained in an emailed statement to CP that these tours would also include visiting Pocahontas Island, “which prides itself as the oldest existing free black community in the nation.”
“We hope that the Juneteenth Poetry Jam will inspire all people to be knowledgeable regarding Black Freedom Day and join in celebrating our heritage, diversity, creativity and culture through poetry,” Clarke said.
“Embracing black heritage is a fundamental element of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In this spirit, Bethel AME Church is proud to host an event to bring awareness to Juneteenth while demonstrating amazing black talents and creativity.”
In Princeton, New Jersey, Mt. Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church and Princeton United Methodist Church will be holding their first-ever joint celebration of Juneteenth.
The two churches are planning to hold a cookout lunch at Community Park South Pavilions in Princeton, according to event co-chair Dana Dreibelbis.
“Along with traditional goals of acknowledging and celebrating African American people and culture, we have a goal of specifically building interpersonal relationships via the fellowship,” Dreibelbis said.
“This includes the notion that race relations in the U.S. will improve, in part, to the extent to which we all get to know and respect others. Simply put, putting ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ into action. We want to build foundations for long-term, harmonious relationships."