Pastor Derrick Rice of Sankofa Church can be described as a revolutionary pastor with a calling to deliver the gospel of Jesus Christ through a Pan-African lens. “Our unwritten mantra,” which is also the motto of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, “is that we are unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian.” “If I do not know who I am, embrace who I am, and lift up and celebrate who I am, I am loving out of something other than who I am.”
His emphasis on Pan-Africa stems from a need to develop a sense of identity as it relates to self-love. To put it simple, we have to know who we are to love who we are. As Christians, who are charged to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, we seem to miss that we can’t complete the latter without that missing piece. When we can celebrate who we are, we not only can love ourselves and our neighbors, but can begin addressing the issues of the larger community.
Rev. Rice referenced Matthew 16, when discussing the role of the church in the community. He tells a story of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples in which Jesus asks, “Who do people say I am?” After several responses, Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus finishes the conversation with “and on this rock I will build my church.” “We believe social justice is ministry — with the model of Jesus Christ.” The word “church” in the story of Jesus and his disciples can be translated into a small group who address the issues of a larger group. For Sankofa United Church of Christ, that means feeding the community on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It means hosting conflict resolution on Wednesdays. It means preparing to police their own Atlanta neighborhoods to address issues of over-policing. For Sankofa, church and social justice are one in the same.
When asked what inspired him to start Sankofa, Rev. Rice took his time with his response, sharing that this was something he was called to by the Holy Spirit. He went on to share, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, if they weren’t called to it. I didn’t want to be a pastor. I didn’t want to start a church.”
As for service, Rev. Rice described the worship experience as gender-balanced with whole congregation participation. “God speaks to us all in a different way. If I never hear you talk, I am missing out of a version of God I wouldn’t get to hear unless you spoke”
Rev. Rice leads his congregation with a hope of a liberated people. He firmly believes that, “If it became ‘in’ to do the work of the oppressed, then we would all be liberated.”