Editor: Having come out of retirement in mid-November to be the new pastor at Hillsboro United Methodist Church in Purcellville, I want to clarify and expand upon several items in the Dec. 26 story (“After Pastor Resigns, Hillsboro Church Works to Commemorate Slave Graves”).
Contrary to former pastor Mark Jagoe’s disappointing and unfounded accusations, there is no structural racism at Hillsboro UMC. The church is actively and vigorously engaged in finding ways to honor and dignify the slaves and freedmen now in an unmarked grave. We are also proceeding deliberately in order to get this important matter right and to promote healing and education.
This includes positive and encouraging discussions with the Loudoun Freedom Center, which identifies and memorializes historic African American heritage sites, sacred burial grounds and communities throughout Loudoun County. Those wishing to support the organization’s important work can make online donations.
Hillsboro UMC is also undertaking research within the community to see if some of those buried can be identified. If so, we will also welcome suggestions from descendants about how to best honor their ancestors.
We are working to obtain federal grants for this project and exploring other funding sources. It is important to recognize that the church is small, with an average of only 22 attendees each week. In addition to our general ministry needs, we maintain two cemeteries: one with approximately 150 marked graves and the other where the unmarked graves are.
Unfortunately, we cannot do everything we would like to do. Over the years, Hillsboro UMC, like many churches, has welcomed assistance from the Boy Scouts and other civic organizations to help maintain cemeteries. And the Boy Scouts have performed important and honorable work, which unfortunately was all but omitted in the Dec. 26 article. This has included painstakingly restoring 22 graves and cleaning up the surrounding area for veterans not only of the Civil War, but the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The Boy Scouts have made the cemetery, and our community, better.
I also want to be unequivocally clear that the United Methodist Church (UMC) deplores racism in all its forms. Racism is diametrically opposed to what we believe as Christians and how we are to act. Many in the UMC were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement.
In the weeks and months ahead, your readers and the broader Loudoun community have my commitment to persevering and addressing this situation. I welcome input from all in the community and especially want to hear from any who believe they may have ancestors buried at Hillsboro UMC.
And finally, I will be praying for wisdom and strength on how to best handle this matter. I would appreciate any prayers from people of faith.
Thank you for your attention to these matters. And best wishes to all for a joyous New Year.
Rev. Larry Thompson, Interim Pastor
Hillsboro United Methodist Church