2018 – A New Year, A Year of Lamentation

New Year Greetings on behalf of the Reparations Committee in the Diocese of New York! We send you our best wishes for joy, good health, love and God’s direction in this New Year. We pray for courage and creativity or us all as we seek to involve ourselves, our fellow Episcopal New Yorkers, our parishes and our Diocese in this shared Year of Lamentation.

What is the Year of Lamentation, exactly? This past November 2017, Diocesan Convention passed a resolution, brought before it by the Reparations Committee, adopting “A Call to the Diocese to Commit to a Year of Lamentations” to learn about, reflect on and mourn the Diocese’s involvement and complicity in the institution of slavery. The resolution continues the Diocese’s ongoing work of the Diocese on this subject since the Reparations Committee was created in 2006 at the 330th Diocesan Convention, a response to three 2006 General Convention resolutions calling on dioceses to respond to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its aftermath of segregation and discrimination. Its role is to collect and document information on the complicity of the Diocese of New York in the institution of slavery and its subsequent history of segregation and discrimination. Since its founding, the Committee has been studying these facts and benefits, offering parish workshops and archival support services, storytelling, educational field trips, book studies and providing information on historical and present-day privilege and under-privilege in order to discern a process toward restorative justice.

The resolution passed because of the work, care and effort of many people. We thank all of the delegates to Convention who were responsible for passing the resolution and Bishops Dietsche, Shin and Glasspool, all of whom expressed their support. Below is an excerpt from Bishop Dietsche’s address to Convention:

The killing of the nine martyrs in Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston two years ago was so horrible, so upsetting, such an affront to dignity  and worth and to God, that it seemed we must be seeing the far reach of racist violence and ugliness in America.  It seemed that the upsurge in racial hatred and the obliteration  of the lives of black people in America which had been our daily  bread month  after month  after month  must have reached its apogee.  Still,  who  was prepared for what we witnessed in Charlottesville  this summer? There, in our day, after the long hard history through which we have come as a people and a Church, were the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux  Klan, armed and armored, marching unabashed in a significant American city.   “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?”  Something dangerous and plainly evil has been unleashed in America, and it is not clear yet how we are going to pull it back in.  At the very least we discover that we are still fighting the Civil War in America.  Still fighting  the Civil War.  As one Southerner, William  Faulkner, famously said, “The past is not dead; in fact, it is not even past.”
In the face of these movements the work of the Reparations Committee of the diocese has never been more urgent.  Today they will offer a resolution to inaugurate a Year of Lamentation across the churches of New York.  You will  receive today a calendar of the events that will  make up the coming year.  Book Readings, Plays and Films, Concerts and Pilgrimages.  An extraordinary amount of creative thinking  and planning  has gone into  this, and I commend it  to you as strongly as I can. Please do not glance at this and turn aside. Please do not dismiss this as just another program of the diocese in a wide range of choices. Most of the cultural and educational offerings are offered on multiple  occasions around the diocese, and all are rich and promising. At the end will  come a time of reflection on the learnings that come through the course of the year.
The act or work or process of Lamentation is profoundly significant, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually, and is a necessary part of the growth of a mature person, though perhaps we pay it little attention.  It requires a long attention span. The beginning of the Book of Lamentations in the Bible has the writer  staring down from hillside  at the ruins of the destroyed Jerusalem and asking, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”  And that question demands response. Do you care?   What does this mean to you?  These nine bodies.  This clash of peoples.  This eruption  of hate.  “Is it nothing  to you, all ye that pass by?”   And  the answer we give will demand of us attention paid, and time spent, and lingering, hanging in even when it is painful, and the openness of spirit to allow the deep sorrows that attend human tragedy and human sin to soak through to the place inside where we have the capacity for deep understanding.  And deepest feeling. Where we own it and know it for what it is.
This I think  is where and how white people and black people may find the place of meeting. The possibility of understanding, at least the desire to know.  Not at first in shared intellectual propositions.  That will  come. But first in shared sorrow, shared hearts.
There is a paragraph from  James Baldwin’s  NOTES OF A  NATIVE  SON  that has been for me a literary and spiritual touchstone for almost four decades. It is this:
It began to seem that one would  have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition.  The first idea was acceptance,  the acceptance,  totally without  rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without  saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with  all one’s strength. This fight  begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.
It begins in the heart.  This Year of Lamentation is heart work, and is the best, most promising possibility for us, across the races and peoples of New York, in these days of madness and fog, to become clear and bright together, that we may by the grace of God become
Everybody All Together, Everybody Being One.

Co-Chair Cynthia Copeland expressed her gratitude to fellow Reparations Committee members following Convention: “We are overjoyed that the year of Lamentations appeared to generate great interest and mounting commitment, as many signed up for our mailing list and came by the table. The words and support from Bishops Dietsche and Glasspool at yesterday’s Convention were affirming and inspiring. It appears we garnered remarkable support from members throughout the New York Diocese. There was a good flow of visitors at our booth, and by the end of Convention, we exhausted our full supply of brochures! That’s a great sign for good things to come.”

Now that the Year of Lamentation has begun, how can you get involved?

  • Pray for each other, our Diocese, our parishes and other diocesan institutions as we undertake this work together. Pray for courage, creativity, sensitivity, that truth will be uncovered, for sufficient pastoral resources and support and eyes and ears to discern the Spirit of God moving in our midst. Pray that this “heart work” will take root in our individual and collective hearts. Pray that God will open our hearts to whatever ways in which Lamentation may need to occur in ourselves or others.
  • Join our planned activities, or start one of your own. The Reparations Committee has developed a yearlong plan of activities that you, your group or parish group can join to be part of this work. Check out the list of activities here and make plans to join us for film and book discussions (or start one in your parish), theatrical presentations, our Absalom Jones or May 17th liturgies, our summer Pilgrimage of Lamentation, a MAAFA presentation, our October 27th concert and October 28th diocesan conversation.
  • Send us your reflections, thoughts and prayers to be included in our prayer blog by emailing these to diocesanrepcommittee@gmail.com. Part of the “heart work” we seek to do is to capture the stories, thoughts, sentiments, cries of the heart as we move through this spiritual journey. Our blog will reflect that journey.
  • Make a financial contribution to support the Reparations Committee’s expenses in offering these activities.
Make cheques out to:
Rural & Migrant Ministry
PO BOX 4757
Poughkeepsie, NY 12602
note Reparations in the Memo line
Or, go on line to www.ruralmigrantministry.org   and click on the Donate Button  (again make sure to note for Reparations)

As Co-Chairs and on behalf of our fellow Committee members, we thank you for your support and your willingness to embark on this journey with us. As you are praying for us, so we are praying for you and our Diocese, that our work together may bear the fruits of knowledge, truth, compassion, love and justice.

Cynthia Copeland and Reverend Richard Witt

Co-Chairs

Reparations Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of New York