In my interview for rector of Grace Church, Plainfield, New Jersey, a predominately black Episcopal church, the Vestry asked how I felt about community activism. I said, “I am no activist. I don’t have the courage for it.” The former rector, a young white man, was very active in justice activity on behalf of Black and Latino people in Plainfield. But I saw that the historical church building was in grave need of repair and our congregation was dwindling. My initial goal was to unite in Christ the very diverse congregation of African people, African American people, Caribbean people, gay people and long-time white members. We needed good pastoral care, good preaching and inspiring liturgy as well as a plan to update our building. We struggled. But we united. Just after the 2008 stock market crash, the board of the local hospital announced the historical hospital’s closure. Our parish had helped found it over 100 years prior. It served our community, particularly poor people who had no health insurance. The NJ governor, health commissioner and the hospital board did no needs assessment and blamed the financial demise of the hospital on the people who couldn’t pay for services. I was outraged and so were many members of our faith community. We began to work at the direction of the Peoples Organization for Progress, a community organizing group in New Jersey. Their Black leaders enlisted my parish and me to work with them and we did. I participated in protests for which we prepared to be arrested, though that never happened. And keeping the hospital open didn’t happen either. The closure was a terrible disappointment. We were angered that elected officials and the hospital board of community leaders forsook the hospital and merged with one in the suburbs leaving the people of Greater Plainfield without emergency medical care. I ended up becoming an activist after all.
And now, I wish to be an activist against injustice and racism. I wish to be a participant in helping our Presiding Bishop bring in the “beloved community,” the vision Martin Luther King, Jr. began after his speech at the March on Washington in 1963. A beloved community models Jesus who washes the feet of his disciples and teaches that we do that for others. It’s the ethic that “Community consciousness looks after the welfare of each other.” Recently, when I completed a questionnaire that the Black Lives Matter of Portland group asked of those wishing to protest with them peacefully, I pledge to follow their lead.
Many of you have written me in anguish about the cruelty that persists in the country toward people of color and the persistence of racism that seems impossible to overcome. You are deeply concerned and have asked what we can do as a parish. How can we transform our lives and our faith community to be race reconcilers?
Our bishop introduced a group of people from St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland who are engaged in a racial reconciliation dialogue designed by the Presiding Bishop’s office to “tenderly” help white people learn racial reconciliation. I have asked a small group of St. Paul’s folks to meet with me and discern whether or not this is a program we feel called to begin. I have added a link for your information. Please take a look and connect with any of our clergy, Katie, Mary Lee or me in a conversation about this material.
Here is the link to “Sacred Ground: Racial Reconciliation.” https://episcopalchurch.org/files/sacred_ground_organizing_a-dialogue_circle.pdf
I also wish to share the statement made by our Presiding Bishop, Michael B. Curry on the recent appearance of the president on the grounds in front of historical St. John’s Church and his effort using force to disperse those gathered there. https://episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/statement-presiding-bishop-michael-b-curry-president-donald-trumps-use-church
God is asking much from us as a parish, I know. We are still observing distancing and are building new ways to be together safely. It’s like they say, “We are building the plane in flight!” The St. Paul’s Future Planning Team meets every week and continues to update the parish on the latest information and plans we are making for the summer and our future. We are asking you to complete a survey in order to take the pulse of your heart and hear from you what is working, your hopes, disappointments and ideas. While God is asking much from us, God is with us profoundly and “never, no never forsakes us!” Every single day, I experience God’s love in prayer and in you. We are a beloved community now and God is calling us to deepen the way of God’s love in the world. You encourage me and help me to become a better lover of God and my neighbor. Thank you.
In Christ’s love,