May 17th: A Liturgy of Lamentation at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine

How can we express our lamentation? It is painful to lament, to grieve. We might automatically think of tears, but as we have experienced thus far in our Year of Lamentation, our lament can take many forms, including prayer, dance, song and theater.

It can also come through liturgy, as we learned together on May 17th, when the Episcopal Diocese of New York, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Diocesan Reparations Committee hosted A Liturgy of Lamentation, a “liturgy to commemorate the life and perpetual work of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to re-dedicate ourselves to the ongoing work of repentance, reparation, aspiring to reconciliation to which Christ calls us all.”

A good crowd came out for the evening service, entering the sanctuary to the sounds of Dr. King’s voice reverberating through the holy space.

Our Reparations Committee Co-Chairs, Cynthia Copeland and the Reverend Richard Witt, reminded those gathered that it is painful to lament and to grieve. That it is important to pray as we lament our part in a world of exclusion.


Reparations Committee Co-Chairs Cynthia Copeland and the Reverend Richard Witt

What followed was a cornucopia of prayer, dance, song and theater that illustrated the many ways in which we express our regrets, our losses, our sorrow, our anger – but also the ways we heal and reconcile with each other through the arts, sometimes through performances we create together, sometimes by being fully present to the art offered in faith by another. These performances included Warriors of a Dream Drum Corps; Alicia Waller, renowned classical soprano and cultural connector along with Tonika Custalow and Vissi Dance Theatre, musicians Jeff McLaughlin and Marcus Varela; Theresa Thomason, violinist and flutist and co-founder of Tunefoolery; Paul Winter, world famous soprano saxophonist and founder of the Paul Winter consort; Brocton Pierce, actor; Tatyanna West, Diocesan youth member and emerging activist; Reggie Wilson, choreographer of the Fist and Heel Performance Group; William E. Randolph, Assistant Organist of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Jeannine Otis, Music Director at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery.


Brocton Pierce impersonates “Richard Jenkins”, a character in “A New York Lamentation”

The performances were complemented by two reflections and a welcome to the Cathedral, “the home that love built”, by Interim Dean, the Right Reverend Clifton “Dan” Daniel, III D.D.

The first reflection, offered by the Reverend Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, Canon Theologian of Washington National Cathedral and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School of Union Theological Seminary, called us to rededicate ourselves to the work of repentance, reparation and reconciliation.


The Reverend Canon Kelly Brown Douglas offered the first reflection

The second reflection, offered by the Right Reverend Andrew M L Dietsche, Bishop of the Diocese of New York, gave a historical snapshot of some of the ways in which the Diocese of New York was involved in the slave trade.


The Right Reverend Andrew M L Dietsche offered the second reflection.

Among those who stopped by the Reparations Committee table at the end of the service, some passersby left their thoughts in our book of Lamentation. We thank them for sharing their thoughts with us:

As we continue to move forward through our Year of Lamentation, let us continually ask ourselves: how is God moving me to express my lament?


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