Can one ever complete A Year of Lamentation? The Diocese of New York one year later

It has been one year. A Year of Lamentation. Part One in our three-part journey to come to terms with our New York slavery history.

Have we done enough?

One year ago, in November 2017, Diocesan Convention passed the resolution, proposed by the Reparations Committee on Slavery, to adopt “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.

We embarked, together, on a faith journey that led us to examine – more closely than we might like – shadowy histories, broken bodies and trampled souls, the legacy of our families’ and our churches’ past. Very specifically, over 2,300 people participated in our journey of Lamentation. From Staten Island to Harlem to White Plains to yesterday’s first day of Diocesan Convention 2018, we watched actors perform A New York Lamentation and identified our own personal grappling with the sins of racism and the institution of slavery through the eyes and experiences of the play’s singular characters. Some of us, so taken by the script, requested play writing workshops to help our parishes write our slavery history.

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Reparations Committee Co-Chair Cynthia Copeland (far right); Reparations Committee member Reverend Chuck Kramer, playwright and author of A New York Lamentation (second from right) and cast of A New York Lamentation address Diocesan Convention on November 9th, 2018

In small groups, we watched Birth of a Nation and Strong Island, convened thoughtful book discussions on Deep Denial and We Were Eight Years in Power on Sunday afternoons in our parish halls. At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, we celebrated brave Blessed Absalom Jones and a Liturgy of Lamentation in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In September, we made a pilgrimage to southern Brooklyn to experience the Ma’afa Suite, a three-hour dramatization of the African-American holocaust, narrating the enslavement of Africans, the transatlantic crossing, the brutal and inhumane conditions the enslaved endured for centuries in this beautiful land that purportedly was the land of the free – but wasn’t.

We showed up. We saw. We learned. We exclaimed. We turned away. We got angry. We cried. We pondered. We wrote. We prayed. We balked. We danced. We sang. We denied. We dismissed. We preached. We gave money. We slept it off. We drank. We vowed to be the change. We were changed.

We lamented. We lament.

When do we stop lamenting? Will it be when justice finally rolls down like a river? Will it be when we get so tired of this endless, awful journey into our twisted and broken past that we run out of anger or tears, and apathy takes up residence at the hearth of our soul’s home? Will it be when we are resurrected with the risen Christ and finally can ask God why such suffering would even be allowed in a divinely designed universe where God cares for and loves each human being?

Why lament? And for how long?

Perhaps we will never stop lamenting. Perhaps we never should. Moving forward does not preclude our lamentation. On the contrary, our lamentation is the necessary and ongoing soul work that will propel us forward, by moving us emotionally to a space where our voices can ring out their regret. And accept the regret expressed by others. So that all may be cleansed, and all may be healed.

On Saturday November 10th, at this year’s Diocesan Convention, the Reparations Committee will propose a resolution on Next Steps for the Diocese of New York After Lamentations. Fully cognizant that our lamentation does not stop, but that, as time marches forward, so do we. The Resolution calls 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.

Not to end our Lamentation, but to move along with it to a new stage. A stage with new concepts and ideas to ponder, new actions to take together, new progress – we pray, dear Lord – in our mutual journey of healing.

Please join us over the coming year, as we continue our sacred pilgrimage through history, suffering, love and respect, towards a Year of Apology.

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