Clergy Webinar #12
Holy God, your promise of peace with justice for everyone in our world feels like a distant dream today. We see division and anger, hurt, pain and suspicion across our nation and in our own towns and communities. We are hit smack in the face with the sin of racism that has infected our nation, The Episcopal Church and our Diocese of Virginia. We mourn all who have died of COVID-19, recognizing that African Americans and Native Americans have suffered and died in disproportionate numbers. We grieve the lives of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Brionna Taylor and all men and women of color whose lives were violently stolen from them.
In our grief, confusion and uncertainty about how to respond, we come to you, O God, in prayer.
We pray for those who have died and those who mourn their deaths.
We pray for peaceful protesters who have taken to the streets of our towns and cities.
We pray for our local police force members.
We pray for congregations of this diocese that have been vandalized or threatened, and for all of our congregations.
We pray for our civic and religious leaders in this time when moral leadership is so needed.
In the middle of a broken and sinful world, you came, Lord God, to show us how to live. You breathed your Spirit upon us at creation and again at Pentecost. Keep breathing on us now so that’s we can keep breathing. Show us how to hold onto hope and how to become, more than ever before, vessels of your peace. Inspire us to cling to wisdom. Give us words of truth and give us the courage and grace to speak them. Above all, quicken our trust in you, our governor, our guide, our God.
I woke this morning thinking, “I don’t recognize the world today.” I lived through 1968 as a young teenager. In those days I was filled with youthful hope for new possibilities and a commitment to action for the sake of the world. I had only a narrow context for understanding the pain, loss and change that we as a nation we were experiencing as new kinds of community were being birthed.
Living these days as a mature adult in the context of the life of faith is harder. Reactions of people across our country and across our diocese are quick and, in far too many cases, untempered. I’ve received, as you yourselves might have, vitriolic emails with accusations based on things we in the diocese have done or said, things we haven’t done or said and assumptions people are making. Social media encourages a culture of reaction without investigation, immediate response without reflection. Outrage is hurled from every direction without restraint.
In light of the violence done to George Floyd and others, violence has erupted in our land. Here in Richmond, as in many other cities, places in downtown have been set on fire. Vandalism has touched our Mayo Memorial Church House, which is downtown, and St. Paul’s Church, across the street from the State Capitol. No one has been hurt in these actions and our properties remain secure. St. John’s Church on Church Hill has been threatened by people who have confused it with St. John’s on Lafayette Square in DC. We’ve heard from a few of you about vandalism in your towns and communities. Please let us know if your church facilities are vandalized or if threats of any kind are made. Diocesan staff members, other diocesan leaders and your bishops will offer support and concrete help.
We need a focus for our rage and outrage. We want to act. As followers of Jesus, we must act in hope and in love. Here are some concrete ways to act today and in the days to come.
- People are quick to say that prayers are not enough, implying that prayer is not concrete action. We know from the biblical witness and from generations of experience that prayer is concrete action for the sake of the world. So keep praying. Pray for people by name. Pray for those with whom you agree and for those with whom you do not. Our community of deacons are organizing a 12 hour prayer vigil for Saturday of this week. Please plan to be the vigil and to invite your congregations to take part.
- We recognize that the Anglican Communion, The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia are infected by the sin of racism. Our Church was a party in the slave trade. Our historic buildings were constructed by slave labor. Some of our bishops and priests owned slaves. The Anglican Communion expanded on this continent and around the world through colonization and its countless dehumanizing practices. We as a diocese must name our history in every locality. We must own the dark truth about ourselves and repent so that we can be healed. Only through being healed ourselves can we become a part of the healing of the world.
- We will continue a small action that we began with our Visioning Tour in the winter. That is that we will name the native peoples who once lived on what we now know as church property. We will also acknowledge, where appropriate, the labor of enslaved people on that land.
- We have to vote and do all we can to ensure that every American has the right to vote in November. We must bring our influence and voice to bear on this vital right for all people, this vital way to allow the voices of every citizen to be heard. Since we don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be in November, it is not too early to consider requesting an absentee ballot for yourself and to suggest it to members of your congregations.
- We can demonstrate our hope. We are people of the Gospel, which means by definition that we are people of hope. If you choose to take part in a physical demonstration, please be sure to take care of yourself and the people around you. Practice appropriate distancing. Wear a mask. Use social media wisely and well. Walk in love. If your bishops receive a complaint about your taking part in such acts of witness, know that we will have your back and support your wise and prudent decisions, made for the sake of love.
- Let’s not encourage people’s feelings of helpless rage. Instead, let’s keep looking for and articulating the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. Let’s also encourage people to positive action, no matter how they vote. Let’s encourage them to be engaged as opposed to being angry spectators.
Some people have asked if I will weigh in on the statements made by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry or Bishop Mariann Budde of the Diocese of Washington regarding the President’s photo op on the grounds of St. John’s Church. I support my colleagues fully in what they have said and at this point don’t plan to send additional words of my own to our diocese. That may change depending on what the next few days bring, but remains my hope-filled response today.
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