A Message from Bishop Goff and Bishop Brooke-Davidson on National Day of Mourning

Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
This morning you received an email in which Bishop Goff offered prayers specifically for our National Day of Mourning for the victims of COVID-19, who now number over 103,000 in the US and over 370,000 around the world. She also offered prayers for all who have died in racial violence.
 
Today at noon Bishop Brooke-Davidson joined the Rev. Charlie Dupree for a service of remembrance on the front steps of St. Paul's in Richmond, whose front steps have been marked by citizens with the names George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery - black citizens whose lives were brutally ended by the sin and scourge of racism. The Rev. Dupree offered opening comments and prayers, and the church bell was tolled for ten minutes as a memorial, followed by Bishop Brooke-Davidson's comments and closing prayers. We join together in sharing her remarks at that service which are set forth below as a word to the faithful of Virginia. You may also click on this link to see the service at St. Paul's.
 
As we all struggle to absorb and respond to the loss, grief, fear, and rage that are sweeping our beloved country, we look to the community that is the Body of Christ to stand for justice and love. We grieve and lament, but not as those who sorrow without hope, for we live in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection. We renounce this evil, and we re-commit to our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
 
Yours faithfully,
 
The Rt. Rev. Susan E. Goff
Bishop Suffragan and 
Ecclesiastical Authority 
The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson
Assistant Bishop 
 
Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson's Remarks from the Steps of St. Paul's Church in Richmond 
 
Today, we mourn.
We bear witness. We refuse to look away, to act as if nothing is happening.
 
We mourn over 103,000 deaths in the United States and over 371,000 deaths worldwide, with the number of infections and deaths rising daily.
 
We just heard the bells of St. Paul's toll for ten minutes - 600 peals of the bell. That's 172 Americans per peal of the bell. Imagine that in comparison to your congregation's average Sunday attendance. It's far more than all the communicants of the Diocese of Virginia. That's just US deaths - it's almost four times that worldwide, all of which have occurred in just a few months.
 
Many of those who have died have died alone, without the presence of family or anybody else but medical personnel in full protective gear and face shields. Priests and pastors have read last rites over the phone, if they could offer them at all. At least one emergency room doctor, a native of Charlottesville, has committed suicide, unable to bear the crushing grief of loss. And it is not the last such service we will hold, because we are still on the upswing of a bell curve. The measures that have kept the numbers from exploding beyond that grim sum have required limiting contact and movement, and they have been costly and psychologically difficult.
 
Weary as we are, we cannot move on unless we grieve. 103,000 Americans, 370,000 human beings, have lost their lives already. Those of us still here have lost our hopes and dreams, our plans for a year or more, our schools, businesses, in-person worship gatherings and social life, and more.
 
However true this is for white Americans, it is literally doubly true for black Americans. The statistics are complicated, but according to APM Research Labs, the overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times as high as the rate for white Americans. In New Mexico, the mortality rate of indigenous people is eight times the white mortality rate. In Northern Virginia, Latino populations are being disproportionately affected.
 
And now, on top of all of that - all of that - my God, how much more?
On top of all of that, we bear literal eyewitness to the cold-blooded killing, by armed agents of the state, of an incapacitated black man named George Floyd accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill, within hours of hearing the racist threats of a white woman who was herself violating the law.   On the weekend that the Christian church marks the breath of God - the winds of Pentecost, the appearance of the resurrected Christ breathing peace upon his followers, our nation is convulsed with chants of "I can't breathe."
 
Another illness, another epidemic, has been brutally and graphically revealed. Like COVID-19, racism and bigotry infect every system in the body politic, in the human family. Like COVID-19, they prevent us from breathing, and not just metaphorically.
 
We must mourn - we must mourn the human beings by name:
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more.
 
We must mourn, we must grieve, we must lament, and then we must act. This is not a political statement. This is a spiritual matter. Our tradition teaches us that all human beings are made in the image of God. It teaches us that our prime directive, if you will, has two parts: first, to love a God who, as the primal energy of reality, is actually love, and second, to love the image of that God in all human beings. To do otherwise is to sin, to break our connection to the love that is God.
 
We must act because the COVID-19 epidemic can be slowed, and people can be protected, if we each have the humility and love of neighbor to inconvenience ourselves by wearing a simple cloth face mask to prevent the spread of germs we don't even know we carry because we feel okay. That one is not that hard. There may be harder things, too, with real consequences to our families, like staying at home when we expected to be at work and at school or at a church service. That's a hard way to love. And sometimes loving takes hard work and sacrifice - ask anybody who has ever been in a family. But to love, to save lives of people who are equal to us in the eyes of God, we must act.
 
We must act because racism and bigotry are not biological accidents. They are sins - deep, grievous, lethal forces of wickedness that corrupt and destroy the children of God, on both sides of the sin. There is much to say about all this that will not fit in this time we have. This short service of mourning is not all we will do, but it begins by not looking away. It begins with empathy for those who have suffered so long, and with determination to know and act upon the deep truth, however uncomfortable it might be. It begins with being willing to do the hard work of love, right in the middle of pandemic, fear, chaos, and loss.
 
And it begins with reclaiming hope - that the possibilities of humanity are defined not by our worst failings but by the knowledge that we are all made in the image of a God who is love, who calls us to that identity, and empowers us, if we are willing, to make all things new. Jesus, who was also brutally killed by suffocation by agents of the state while everybody stood by, still came back to show us that the way of love always remains open to us, no matter what. The breath of God remains available to us even after we have choked one another - that is the great mercy of the hope of the Resurrection. The worst news is never the last news. History is not fate. So let us mourn, and then let us make new history.