A message from the Reparations Committee in preparation for tomorrow’s Diocesan Convention:
As you have read, the Reparations Committee of the Diocese will present a resolution at Convention calling for a year of Lamentations. We write to urge you to engage in prayerful reflection upon this resolution; and, should this resolution pass, we fervently request that you join with us in leading the members of our Diocese into intentional engagement this following year. The power and the necessity of this resolution is actually not in the resolution, but in how we live into it.
We believe that a year of lamentation is an opportunity for transformation for all of us.
So why lament?
Slavery was a fact of life in the United States for more than two hundred years. Though we think of it as a southern issue, slavery had a strong hold on the Diocese of New York for much of that time. From the construction of our churches, to the private households of prominent church leaders, to the refusal of the Episcopal Church in New York to recognize the ministry of black Episcopalians, our diocese was a powerful agent of oppression. More than 150 years after the Civil War, its impact is still felt throughout our land. Whether in the form of Jim Crow laws, segregation, sundowner laws, redlining, wholesale imprisonment, or voter repression, slavery has never really left, and we have never fully dealt with it.
That is the job of the Reparations Committee. In 2006, Bishop Mark Sisk formed the group with the task of looking honestly at our past—and our church’s culpability in it—to understand how that past affects our present, and to work to repair the breach.
This repair—these reparations—are part of our Christian mission of reconciliation, which “is about a return to wholeness and right relation with God and one another” (The Rev. Winnie Varghese in Church Meets World). As St. Paul writes, “Through Christ (God) reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)
Reparations is more than mere monetary compensation (though that is not excluded). Reparations is confronting the prejudices that still exist and correcting the systemic injustices that, from the time of slavery to today, have continued to harm brothers and sisters in Christ.
The first step in this process is LAMENTING. Why lamenting? Because even today, we are diminished by slavery and its newer incarnations. Because even today, some of us benefit from its lingering power while others suffer. And this is lamentable. Because without acknowledging a problem and lamenting it, there can be no repentance, no recognition of the need for justice, no healing, no repair, and ultimately no reconciliation.
We lament the suffering caused by this scourge, and we lament the indifference our society and our church have for too long hidden behind. How do we lament? Think of the scriptures, of those ripped from their homes and forced into slavery, and how they lamented their fate. By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion. As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land. Lamentation is filled with longing and rage, but mostly it is a cry of grief. And the legacy of slavery has left us so much to grieve. We grieve not only the suffering but the sin itself, for when we fail to see Christ in each other, when we fail to see and respond to injustice or suffering, we remove ourselves from Christ and die a bit in our souls.
Over the course of this year, we will have opportunities to express our lamentation, but we do this always with the awareness that it is a first step toward repentance and reparation.
The Reparations Committee is committed to supporting you as you look to create a process of immersion and reflection. Some congregations have already committed to setting up intentional groups to live into the year, and in turn have committed to participate in at least three of the different events.
The Reparations Committee
Cynthia Copeland, St Mark’s in the Bowery – CO-CHAIR
Richard Witt, Rural & Migrant Ministry – CO-CHAIR
Nell Braxton Gibson, St Marks in the Bowery
Carla Burns, Church of the Holy Innocents, Highland Falls
Bishop Mary Glasspool, Diocese of New York
Charles Kramer, St James Hyde Park
Lynnaia Main, Saint Esprit, NYC
Diane Pollard, Trinity Wall Street
Gary Ryan, St Peter’s NYC
Astrid Storm, St James the Less, Scarsdale
Rodger Taylor, St Augustine, NYC
Thalia Lucas, Intern
P.S. The Committee has set up a Prayer Blog for the year: ednyreparationsblog.wordpress.com We invite you to join us.