Report on our Apology retreat: “Apology for Slavery and its Residual Impact on Human Life: A Day of Reflection, towards Transformation”

Our Year of Apology began with an Apology Retreat, “Apology for Slavery and its Residual Impact on Human Life: A Day of Reflection, towards Transformation” at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Peekskill, NY on Saturday, March 16th , 9 am – 3 pm. The retreat explored 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 gave skills to apologize effectively so we can look to a new future and be “Heroes of apology” in our own contexts.

The retreat was led by The Rev. Chuck Kramer, Rector, St. James’ Church, Hyde Park and member of the Reparations Committee and the Rev. Masud Ibn Syedullah TSSF, Director, Roots & Branches Programs for Spiritual Growth and Vicar, St. Paul’s & Trinity Parish, Tivoli.

The retreat began with a introduction tot eh day: overview of purpose and design, mission of Roots & Branches and how its mission relates to addressing racism, guidelines for large and small group discussion. Participants shared as a way of introducing themselves, answering the question “What drew you to this day of reflection?”

Session One – Name the Sin

  • There are five stages of apology. Three years is good, but it’s also nothing.
  • On Sunday, we do general confession. There is both corporate responsibility, and personal responsibility. We confess because the weigh of the sin is unbearable. Rite I confession is beautiful.
  • Part of what we are doing this year is understanding that the burden is intolerable.
  • St. Augustine’s slave gallery.
  • One of the things the church is culpable for is bringing slaves. They built our churches. Having them be the sextons in our churches. Leaders were slave owners.
  • Samuel Seabury wrote American Slavery Justified.
  • Diocesan Convention refused to seat St. Philip’s Church because they were black.
  • We have a list that this church is responsible for.
  • Even if we didn’t live back then, we are members of a church that has been around since then.
  • If the church didn’t apologize back then, then why not now?
  • General Confession – the sin is corporate as well as individual.
  • We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf.
  • “I am not part of this” – I am now engaged in a personal private sin of refusing to know. We may not have heard to do with.
  • Part of our job is to acknowledge what happened and how it impacts what we do today.
  • Private confession: We see private confession. We have things we’re called to confess, because that is a gift to us.
  • Part of what we are doing in apology is naming it and … it.
  • Name your ignorance. Or that you just don’t want to know.
  • Part of confession is naming it.
  • What about ‘ism? What about the fact that Africans were also enslaving their own people?
  • “I didn’t know about it”
  • “That was in the past.”
  • “But I’m a good person”.
  • Angry response. Just yelling at the person who asked.
  • Choosing ignorance over knowledge.
  • Not connecting the dots between then and now.
  • Not recognizing the discrimination that continues today. Redlining, police brutality.
  • We participate in not teaching our kids. See the book Lies My Teacher Taught Me.
  • It may be nice to not be aware.
  • If I don’t know, I’m not responsible. So just don’t tell me.
  • If you choose not to practice responsibility, you participate in the sin.
  • You can’t deny, run away, stick your head into the sand.
  • So when we name the sin, we can apologize for it.

Small Group Breakout Session: “Share personal observations of the residual impact of slavery and its underlying assumptions about African Americans (and other people of color) has on current society.”

  • As women, we apologize all the time, even for things for which we shouldn’t need to apologize. Is it a way of avoiding the deeper work?
  • Everybody in society has been affected by this. We all have been complicit in one way or another with the system.
  • I believe that for many people of color it’s complicated to think we are all complicit.
  • Many of us chose our churches because of their diversity.
  • Shootings of young black men over the years motivated us to do something.
  • Conversations like this can help us heal.
  • From sins of commission to sins of omission – how do we do this?
  • Importance of this moment in addressing this issue.
  • Liturgy might be a way to express loss and move to what might be gained.
  • We want to come away today with ways we can interrupt what has been happening.
  • The Church had an opportunity in 2006 to apologize but the Presiding Bishop at the time never did.
  • Fear, embarrassment, confusion – what can or should I do? Feeling of paralysis.
  • There are people who don’t want to apologize. And they are in our churches.
  • Theology of our church being a grand lover of all people.
  • The church is the originator of enslavement. From the beginning our church and the government were in bed together.
  • Our allegiance is supposed to be to our baptism. To God, to God’s church. But we get confused about what our primary allegiance is.
  • For many white people, racist = evil. So it’s really hard to admit that. It’s so multi-layered.
  • We are stained, we are sinful, we carry a burden. We all collude because we have inherited the system. And then there is the more personal and immediate responsibility.
  • Baptismal Covenant preceded by the renunciations and the affirmations: “Do you renounce the evil powers that corrupt and destroy the people of God?” (Baptismal Covenant)
  • Everyone involved is being corrupted and destroyed.

Session Two – Own it/Accept Responsibility

Small Group Breakout Session: “Share thoughts and feelings about personal ownership/participation in racist assumptions and systemic processes”

Session Three – Express Remorse for the Church’s Role in Slavery, the Harm it did, and its residual effects

  • Are you willing to forgive?
  • If not, are you willing to be willing?
  • Can you identify with the level of damage at an emotional, visceral level? “Can you save a place for the willingness”?
  • They are looking for lifting of this intolerable burden.
  • Our job is to acknowledge the burden.
  • Acknowledging to ourselves of what we need forgiveness for.
  • Being hurt by another and having to come to a place of forgiveness.
  • Racial moments can come from benign people who are willing the best.
  • Complicity of black people: when we swallow it and let it go by.

Small Group Breakout Session: “Work together to create portions of A Litany of Penitence”

Large groups gathers to present and review material for “A Litany of Penitence”

Praying the Litany of Penitence


Forgive me, Lord, for what we have done or left undone, especially…

– choosing a path of ignorance or least resistance, passivity which is passing as an attempt at harmony.

– congratulating myself for the ways in which I already work towards racial reconciliation.

Thinking that I don’t need to dress up, put out my best plates, etc if I am socializing with people of color.

Resenting the term “white” and “people of color”

Session Four – Commit to Identifying Systemically Racist Actions within One’s Environment, and Consider What Actions Might be Taken to Disrupt Them

Small Group reflection – Reflect and discuss: “In light of insights gained today, what would I do/how might I respond to racist situations in my environment and in myself?”

Large group – Share ideas of possible ways to disrupt the systems of racist policies and actions.

The retreat closed with closing remarks and prayer.

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