2019 – A Year of Apology begins

Our lamentation never ends, even as our Year of Apology begins.

Over the past year, the Diocese of New York has embarked on the first year in a three-year spiritual pilgrimage – Lamentation, Apology, Reparations – to recognize our Diocese’s role and complicity in the history of slavery, and to study whether and how reparations might be necessary.

Our Year of Lamentation, in 2018, took us through a year-long panoply of events, study groups, films, book readings, theatrical presentations, concerts and individual parish events to study the effects of slavery and ask ourselves, For what do we lament? And why?  In November 2018, at its Diocesan Convention, our delegates and deputies voted on a resolution proposed by the Reparations Committee, Next Steps for the Diocese of New York After Lamentations. The Resolution called for the Diocese of New York to admit the consequences of slavery and the heroic action that will mandate an apology from the Diocese of New York, to participate in Diocesan conversations in work groups, blogs, podcasts and other forms of inquiry, and to use the findings of all of our studies as the basis for a formal act of apology in 2020 by the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

The resolution passed with one friendly amendment. The amendment encouraged churches to research their histories — especially in terms of finding out if their building structures were built by enslaved Africans, and based on their complicity, create a plaque to be placed on or near their buildings to be displayed publicly in 2020. Putting plaques up in 2020, the Year of Reparation, that seems like a real, concrete action we can all take. The Reparations Committee is considering providing a single design template so the plaques have a uniformity to them and to indicate that the entire Diocese is acting together.

The table discussions following the presentation of the play A New York Lamentation provided some helpful reflections. Nell Gibson, Reparations Committee member and former Chair, reports this about some of the comments at her table:

Below are the discussion results I captured in the very short time that we had for table discussion.

Question: “What do you think about when you think about racism?” Responses:   

  • Racism is present and strong. It is a huge problem but I don’t know how to fix it without guidance. “My husband is black” (he is white). We face racist incidents daily so it affects me daily.
  • Racism is based on outward appearance with pre-judgement. It is what you grew up with.
  • Racism is another expression of tribalism. We have to work to get beyond that. We always carry it with us.I’ve tried to examine my whiteness as a priest in a predominately black church. We struggle with sin on a daily basis but it is not going to be solved. Who would want to believe there is as much racism in the world as there is today? It’s American “exceptualism.”
  • Indaba should have paired up more congregations that mixed the races together. We were paired with other white congregations.
  • We’ve made progress with women’s and gay rights but we are still stuck with racism. Half the country doesn’t think there is a problem. The other half does. We are stuck when it comes to racism.

Question: “Do you ever get tired of thinking about racism?

  • I’m tired of thinking about racism in old ways and what privilege brings me; my access versus others.
  • I’m tired of segregation in churches. I wish we had a more integrated church (I don’t know if this should have been church with a capital “C” or lowercase “c”) Diversity is enriching.

Question: “How does it make you feel to discuss race and race-related issues? How often does this occur?”

  • We talk about race all the time at home; the way our country is going right now. Seems like no one wants to make it different. No one wants to make it better.
  • I thought living in the northeast that racism was gone. I was not exposed to poverty or the ghetto and did not sense that I would have this conversation today.
  • You make one step forward and wake up all the demons. This is the last gasp – racism in the north with different rules.

And so our Year of Apology begins. Over the coming year, the Reparations Committee will work with the Diocese to accompany parishes in continuing to consider their histories and what a Diocesan apology might look like. Among our activities:

  • Come to our Year of Apology retreats. Our Year of Apology begins with an Apology Retreat at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Peekskill, NY on Saturday, March 16th , 9 am – 3 pm. The retreat will explore the questions : “Apologize? Why? For What? To Whom? How?” and what it means to apologize for the sin of slavery and its lingering effects. It will give the skills to apologize effectively so we can look to a new future. Register online at: http://www.dioceseny.org/apology-retreat
  • Listen to our podcast. The Reparations Committee soon will produce a year-long podcast, “A Year of Apology: We All Have Skin in the Game” with monthly contributions related to the Apology theme. The Committee will determine the themes for the podcasts, make recommendations for participants in the podcasts and contribute content. More info forthcoming.
  • Go see A New York Lamentation. Bring a friend. The play, written and produced by Reparations Committee member The Reverend Charles Kramer, has proven incredibly popular. Many parishes have expressed interest in using it as a means by which to deal with research and discovery in their own congregations. Its run will continue in 2019 in various parishes throughout the Diocese and may be followed by a workshop.
  • Contribute to our Prayer Blog. You are here! Contribute your own and your parish’s prayers, stories or efforts here. Connect with us using the “Contact” tab.
  • Join our summer pilgrimage down south.

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