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What if?

A reflection from the Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam, director of the Center for the Repair of Historic Harms

The Rev. Anthony Jermaine Ross-Allam (Photo by Mohammad Mia)

In 2022, the 225th General Assembly approved an overture to meaningfully address the wounds inflicted on Alaska Natives, who were directly impacted by the sin of the unwarranted 1963 closure of Memorial Presbyterian Church, a thriving, multiethnic, intercultural church in Juneau, Alaska.

Beginning Aug. 28, an interagency delegation from the Office of the General Assembly and Presbyterian Mission Agency will be in Juneau to meet with the Healing Task Force to begin the process of learning and understanding ahead of a visit in October 2023, when the Formal Service of Acknowledgement, Apology and Commitment to Reparations will take place.

We invited members of the delegation and the Healing Task Force to share their thoughts, reflections and insights as they discern their experiences during this journey. This is not only to give them an outlet for sharing and growth through reflection, but to help the greater church gain a better understanding of these trips, as well as the process and spirituality of repair. These expressions may come in words, art, video, photography, etc.

We invite you to pray with this delegation and join members in imagining future possibilities in light of what is experienced and learned in Juneau and provide a model for future applications to repair historical harms.

What If?

During a conversation back in early May, my friend, Irvin Porter, raised a profound and simple question.

“What do you think would have happened if European settlers had introduced Indigenous peoples to the settlers’ take on the Gospel, but then actually left Native folks alone to decide how best to interpret the Gospel as Good News to themselves?”

Somehow — after years of studying expressions of Christian religion and theology imported and adapted under the conditions of genocide, slavery, and colonization processes — I had never asked this question that Irv put on the table!

Why hadn’t I?

What other questions and answers obscured this obvious question from my view?

What assumptions about history, God, possibilities, responsibilities and time had occupied, seized, paralyzed and sequestered the very parts of my imagination that should have been available to raise up this fundamental question—

what if? 

Since my conversation with Irv, I’ve taken what if with me to Louisville, Charleston, Aibonito, Accra, Monrovia, Stony Point, and Lansing.

Next week,

what if will be with us in Juneau where the Tlingit community will take the week to allow our interagency delegation to see, and hear, and feel what happened.

But —

why does it matter now,

what if?

What sense does it make to

take the time to ask

speculative questions about the past?


Today we ask what if

because we are the

people who live the consequences

of what our forebears imagined and failed

to imagine.


Today we ask

what if 



we are the ones

who are responsible —

at any given moment —

to survey the world that our thoughts and acts have co-created;


we are the ones who are responsible for naming missed opportunities,

naming intended and unintended consequences,

one by one;


and especially because

we are responsible for setting the stage for a future where


yesterday’s missed opportunities

inform and inspire us


activities fit to occupy

human beings

for whom the incarnation of

the Creator of the Cosmos

in a human life

leaves no excuse to avoid

living the answer to a good question

beginning with

what if?


Next week we will learn too much —

just what we need to know and

much more than we are prepared to hold

and not quite one drop of all others have held

for too long.

Pray with us as we go.

We will share what we learn.

We expect that this historic journey of repair

is only a beginning.

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