Rev. Jerome Burton went to his heavenly reward on July 6, 2023. I first met him during my early days (mid-90’s) working with the Hispanic Ministry, which was part of what was back then known as Christian Reformed Home Missions. What struck me about Jerome was the emotion he put in his words when he spoke of the church.
Time passed, and I moved full-time to the Race Relations office (now Thrive). Much of my work in Race Relations is about presenting workshops to help develop an awareness of racism and its consequences. For these workshops it was essential to have a team of facilitators specializing in teaching, talking, and facilitating difficult dialogues on racism, white supremacy, racial internalization, etc. I invited Jerome to be part of this team nine years ago.
From the start, whenever a workshop was to be held in the city of Grand Rapids, and many times outside Michigan, Pastor Jerome was the first to put his name down, willing to be present wherever we presented. Jerome was passionate about talking about what racism is, the damage that it causes to the church, and why it is so difficult to eradicate from within the church. He loved to share stories and experiences of how he encountered racism in his life.
The current Race Relations facilitator team comprises brothers and sisters from different regions and cultural groups. Jerome Burton liked to learn from the other team members and learn about them! He loved to have great conversations with everyone. And during the pandemic, when the team had to learn and run our workshops virtually, his desire to serve was what drove him to take on the challenge with us.
Some members of the facilitators' team wrote down their feelings about what Jerome meant to their lives:
"I will miss Jerome. I remember Jerome's willingness to learn, talk from the heart, and always be a part of our group, the discussions, the walks, the activities, ready to go and engage. Thinking more, I don't think I ever heard Jerome complain. Jerome understood injustice, but I can't think of a time that he complained. His trust in God came through all the time. He will be greatly missed in the ORR group, and it won't be the same without his presence."
~ Shannon Perez (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
"One time Jerome told me and others a story about an incredibly frightening time when he was growing up in Selma. White men were patrolling the streets, bent on violence against black people. Jerome's parents brought him and their other children into a crawl space beneath their house for protection, and they didn't leave till it was safe. Knowing that terrifying time was part of his past, I'm even more humbled by his graciousness toward me, a white man, and the graciousness with which he led Race Relations workshops. His words and actions embodied a brave and loving presence, which I firmly believe was how Christ lived here."
~ Mark Stephenson, Intersection Ministries (Holland, MI)
"I remember Pastor Jerome as interested and helpful whenever we had time for discussion and teamwork over race relation matters. He didn't hesitate to share his experiences and the history and wisdom surrounding it. He had a sense of humor that was seen occasionally, and he made me laugh a lot once during a drama training session in Seattle. He overcame his limitations, and I'd see him taking strolls to take all the sights around him. He is truly one of a kind."
~ Darlene Silversmith (Crownpoint, NM)
Jerome Burton's absence from our team will be very noticeable, but he left a very enduring legacy, some of which is yet to be realized. For example, The Blanket Exercise workshop is going to be held on September 19th hosted by the Grand Rapids North classis. As part of this classis, Pastor Jerome created and led the classis diversity team and, for the past two years, promoted and urged the classis to have this critical workshop.
So it is with great joy and satisfaction that the facilitators of this event dedicate this opportunity to learn the history of the United States from the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples to Pastor Jerome Burton. He never stopped working until this workshop, could be part of the classis meeting.