Today marks exactly one month following the Juneteenth National Celebration. As of June 17, 2021, The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was passed by Congress with unanimous consent. This bill was passed over to President Biden whom signed it into law, making Juneteenth (June 19th) a federal U.S. holiday. Although Juneteenth is a fairly new addition to our list of U.S. federal holidays, it has been a core societal reset which flung the gates of God’s beloved community wide open; challenging the world to be the community God called it and needs it to be*. Stemming back to June 19, 1865, freedom from enslavement was embraced by more than 250,000 African Americans by executive decree.
For “Sacred White Folk,” a term used by Dr. Christena Cleveland, social psychologist, public theologian, author, and activist who has collaborated with the ECCT Office of Mission Advocacy, Racial Justice, & Reconciliation, Juneteenth is a celebration that can be widely celebrated alongside your Black and Brown siblings in Christ due to the divine nature of diversity. From lush green forests to dry sandy deserts, or the luminous stars within the night sky to the pitch-black depths of the frigid ocean, we can note God’s intentionality of diversity. The extent of physical variation within God’s creation is a reliable citation for the Creator’s purpose of painting a beloved community on this earthly canvas.
Quote: The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello:
“Jesus is the gatekeeper, not us…I hope you will challenge the church to be the community God calls it and needs it to be, I pray this room will not rest until the church lives up to its promise of being a place of love, and support, and community for ALL…I ask you to join one another, join together, in flinging the gates of God’s beloved community wide open, so that all who seek God may find and know God. That, my friends, is your task, that is OUR shared task and we will keep doing it with God’s help until everyone has life and has it abundantly. “
Teach others, including children, about the holiday.
Read books about Juneteenth.
Watch videos and documentaries about Juneteenth.
Have a Barbecue Family Feast highlighting red colored foods like fruit punch, red meat, watermelon, strawberries, and red velvet cake, symbolizing the bloodshed, sacrifice, ingenuity, and resilience of enslaved ancestors.
Support Black-owned businesses.
Listen to music from Black artists. June is also Black Music Month.
Visit an African American Museum.
Host a Juneteenth information session at your parish and hire a speaker of color.
Create a Juneteenth inspired Liturgy via hosting a Juneteenth Sunday Service and invite locals within your community to attend and learn.
Write a card or kind note or prayer for your Black and Brown siblings in Christ, appreciating their contributions and spread the gift of love.
Contact and coordinate with your local towns or DEI (Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion) Leadership to find out what Juneteenth events are happening within CT!
A Great Example
On June 18th, 2023 St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Hebron hosted a Juneteenth Service. In creating this Juneteenth service, the parish did something groundbreaking by having the descendants of formerly enslaved persons by the parish’s 1st rector officiate the service.
Quote: The Rev. Ron Kolanowski:
“While I was away at a family wedding, I was confident that our lay leadership and others in the wider community would join hands to make this a memorable experience for all. The descendants of formerly enslaved persons by our first rector took an active part in leading much of the service. The family is half Muslim and half Christian, and both took active part in the service. We’re especially indebted to Zakiyyah Peters Hasan for bring us a powerful word for that day and helping to shape the service to reflect the values of all.”
Kelly Latimore is one of the most celebrated artists of contemporary religious icons, that’s dedicated to prayerfully creating art depicting “God in plain sight.” Latimore’s modern take on the centuries-old practice of iconography in recent years fuses bible imagery and modern cultural resets. He substitutes well-known biblical figures for those who represent the marginalized and oppressed. For instance his piece, “Mama,” a pietà icon, which represents the 13th station: ‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’. In this image, Jesus is depicted as the late George Floyd, an image that was carried by Black Lives Matter marchers.
The below artwork was purchased by ECCT in June 2023
“As an artist, I’m entering into this improvisation or this dialogue, which I think doesn’t happen in a lot of artists’ work. Working on this artwork with churches can be very hard. But what is so gratifying and is a gift to me is that part of the work: the communality, the conversations about images that mean something to them and that want to push them toward communities and push them toward new ways of being in the world and new ways of relating to one another. I wouldn’t be able to enter into that if I wasn’t doing this work specifically, so I think it’s just about receiving those gifts and doing the best I can to translate that gift [of commonality] into the work.“
“We are just constantly inundated with images. What happens, especially with the social media world, TikTok, Instagram, whatever, is that we can be so quick to speak about something. I hope my art has the potential to teach us not to speak into something but to learn how to observe, to be still, and observe something. And that’s my hope for these images, that they can potentially create dialogue. Not only an internal dialogue but also a dialogue between each other. And that just observing and not speaking into something, I think, is the first part of connecting to the piece of art, whether it’s art in churches, in this iconography, or elsewhere.” -Kelly Latimore
Food for Thought
“What is our church art for? Is it glorified wallpaper, or can it be something that can help us see each other, see in new ways and see God in new ways?”
What if I told you belonging was singular? Often times, we package belonging as a way to be accepted and folded into communal spaces outside of ourselves. But what’s community when you aren’t even home within the confines of your own body? Who is the representative that stands in the place of your true reflection? What masquerade ball has your soul spinning around eggshells, dizzying your identity in the process?
When you come to the realization that belonging doesn’t require any external deliberation and it is only you who has that voting right, you step into your power of belonging to self. I won’t sugarcoat this journey; belonging is a consistent act that takes courage. It requires you to stand alone and belong to yourself above all else. Being a person of color requires a daily practice of choice: choosing to unapologetically stand firm in who the Divine has beautifully and intentionally created you to be, even if you are cast against a stark background.
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI for short), a time where we highlight communities with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries, consisting of approximately 50 distinct ethnic groups and speaking over 100 languages. I had a powerful conversation about cultural identity and the notion of belonging by coming home to oneself with Ranjit K. Matthews, our Canon for Mission Advocacy, Racial Justice & Reconciliationwho is Indian-American.
Ranjit’s Cultural Roots:
My parents came here from South India, in the early 1970s. And they came separately. And they met here through mutual acquaintances, and they got married in around the Boston area. And you know, we’re from a part of India that’s called Kerala, which is in the southern part of India, which is a state where the Apostle Thomas traversed from the Middle East down to Kerala and evangelized. My spouse, Johanna and I, and my family, all of us are sort of a part of that Marthoma lineage and Mar Thoma means Church of Thomas. So, that’s where we’re from, we trace our lineage from Thomas.
Intergenerational Journey and ties to Priesthood:
My great grandfather was a Mar Thoma priest, and people from all over Kerala and I think South India would actually travel to go see my Veliappacha and my Veliammachi, that’s what we call them, to have my great, great grandfather pray over them, because he was known for his gift of healing. People would come and stay with them for a couple of days while he would offer prayers often times coming with tears. So that’s sort of the lineage. When my great grandfather died, my father wanted to be a Priest and follow my grandfather into ministry. That’s why he came to the United States. My dad would do lots of other jobs in the broader Boston community, like, working as a Therapist at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was an executive director of the Asian American Resource workshop. He was a banker and an insurance agent. My mom held a steady job as a hematologist at Mass General Hospital.
Finding a Church Community in the U.S.
My dad had a yearning to follow God. He came to this country to go into ministry, and he completed his master’s in divinity at Princeton, but didn’t have a community around him. And so because of that, we went to a lot of different churches in and around Massachustte, because he was responding to his call, and then found a home in the Episcopal ChurchAnd at that point, I was 11 years old. I guess, felt home at a church and outside of Boston in Milton, where we were going, I felt really moved there by a sense of embrace that I found from, a Priest there now a colleague, and a dear friend of mine.
I went to college in, Washington, DC, and there, I was looking for an Episcopal presence. And I remember going because I wanted to replicate that same experience that I had at St. Michael’s in Milton, and find an equally embracing community. I found a community that a first was community oriented; but the theology they were preaching and espousing was rigidly fundamentalist, and conservative. I was instructed to not hang out with people who were from different religions, this is what we call Purity Culture, and those are my friends. I had friends who were Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Jewish, really from all over. I had to really give up part of myself to be part of the space and that was really awful. I gave up going dancing and even gave away my Hip Hop CD’s, which I was told, were not of God.
The Turning Point
But, it really came to the fore, in my sophomore year, when my family, and I, my dad, my mom, and my sister, we traveled to India. We did that every four years, and my parents hope was for my sister and I to be connected to our family’s heritage and keep my sister and also on a cultural level. I remember my father, who was now deeply within the ordination process within the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts. He was very open and I was this guy that had these blinders on. I remember sitting with my father on my grandparents, veranda, one afternoon. I remember I was going through theological questions, of who was saved, who was not saved. My father, in his wisdom, said, you know, Ranjit, “Do you believe that everybody here in India, who are not Christian, do you believe they’re going to Hell? And then after a pause, he said, “Because that’s not the type of God that I believe in.” That questioned was a seed in my heart and it opened up my theological and spiritual imagination.
Two weeks later, my family and I were in a cathedral in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. We visited a city called Mysore, and the Cathedral which had trappings of British colonialism. But we walked down, we took off our shoes, and were wowed by the beauty of this spiritual place. When we were heading back up, at the top of the stairs were two girls who had leprosy. And leprosy at that time was, I don’t know, was maybe a little bit more common. But they didn’t have any legs and they were pushing themselves around on like make shift skateboards and one of them very powerfully looked down at me while I was on the stairs, and, you know, she touched My Feet, which in India, within different cultures that are in India, it’s a sign of respect. You touch their feet, and you bring it to their mouth, or to the chest. And she did that to me. And I felt on a spiritual level, I felt like she was saying to me, Ranjit just be who you are, don’t judge anybody just being who you are. And I was seeing God in her and she was saying to me, you know, come and be here with me and India and fight for justice. And so that moment with her, that really opened my eyes. I think, that was my is a my most spiritual mystical moment was that moment, that was my awakening. And that moment led me into ministry, you know, in different work in South Africa, and Tanzania, and different places across the United States.
How do you Honor the Belonging with Self?
I try to challenge the norms of White Supremacy by what I wear, my kurta’s, and things that I wear, even the foods that I eat, you know, even how I eat, it’s not just something that’s performative, it’s something that is who I am, right.
And so I have a lot of joy, and even what, you know traveling to India a month ago, people might consider going to be a vacation, but for me, it was, you know, it wasn’t really a vacation, but an real opportunity to deepen my connection, reconnect with my roots, and then help our boys, who are American through and through really connect to their foremothers, their extended family. It’s so deeply critical that we went on that trip, so that they can experience the beauty of our culture, of our food, of our clothing, of our language, of the noise, the color, just all of that beauty that I’m so proud of now. I didn’t have much appreciation of my culture growing up, from my name that teacher’s and others would struggle to pronounce, the aroma of mom’s delicious Indian cooking in my house when friends would come over, but it’s something that I’ve come to really embrace as part of me, so deeply a part of me.
What does your Absolute Unapologetic Full Self look like?
Just someone that is free. That doesn’t cater to the norms of society, that would allow me to be unapologetically me and not, not diminish myself. My great uncle Alex, who had many vocations as a physicist, a psychotherapist, like meditation guru who. I remember one time on the T in Boston, as we were heading for my father’s ordination. I remember seeing him dancing, without any inhibitions. All of us, his relatives are sitting on the train, a little embarrassed but our great uncles, he dancing because he’s free. He’s was unencumbered by the fact that people were staring at him how other people are looking at him that he’s free. And so remembering that and bringing him into my, into my mind space into my heart space, and realizing that he is part of my ancestry.
What Antidote can you give to those Seeking to Belong to themselves?
My real medicine is silence you know, and the quiet. That’s my prayer time when I can go so fully internally with God and that is such a real important gift to me to be able to do that. It allows me to space my to be authentic self. Reminding myself of my food, or language and culture, those nourishing spaces that that again, remind me of who I am. But we do have a thing, create our own space, and God has given us agency. So what has been important for me, is in whether they are groups of Beloved’s in my life, have friends in my life, that have nurtured me and connected with me. Sending me affirmations of love, irrespective of the institution or place, it’s just a space to be me, a space to be free and to take down your mask. Rest, being in touch with your body, if my mind, if my body, if my soul is rested, then it might be a space to dream and think with some theological imagination.
When you enter into a place that doesn’t necessarily look like you, those are the things that give me spiritual and mystical strength from God, you know, to, to show up unabashedly to show but some boldness, and with some strength.
Fun Fact: Anne’s husband is The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Rowthorn, Episcopal Suffragan Bishop of CT that was later appointed U.S. Bishop in Europe
I was very impressed though with the scope of your dissertation, the topic was on the development of recreational therapy in the United States, right? And you looked at the early 20th century all the way up to the present day. So that must have been very formative in how you thought about things in your later career endeavors?
Well, you know, I like the historical process and I enjoyed doing it. And I liked that recreation therapy really came out of the settlement houses in Chicago and New York, and it was helping a great deal in hard times. And there was a historical thread – I was a delegate to the diocesan convention. I was a New Haven deanery delegate and at that time that the church was organized not in regions but in deaneries. And we had a small suburban church in Hamden, where we lived, and we had a general annual general meeting where they elected the vestry members. And there was the delegate to the deanery [position] to the diocese, and nobody would take that position. So, they said, “Well, how about you Anne?” And, you know, I was just trying to finish this PhD, and I’m working part-time…
And the 3 kids!…
Yes, three kids! And so they said, “yeah, just go ahead and do it!”. And so actually, I did do it. We had 19 churches in and around New Haven. They were marvelous priests, marvelous lay people. It was very, very involved in the community.
Some of our members were instrumental in forming Columbus House, the first homeless shelter in New Haven, and their after-school programs. There were soup kitchens, feeding programs. We were probably, along with the Bridgeport Deanery, the most active deanery in the diocese. And we were very good at getting diocesan money to run our programs.
Well, at one point, the Bicentennial of the Episcopal Church was coming up, and we always needed more money. So, I thought, well, I’ll write their bicentennial biography of Samuel Seabury, our first bishop, and then, you know, see if we can arrange some tours so that maybe Episcopalians of means could go to Scotland where Seabury was ordained Bishop.
And actually, that was the first thing I thought – if I could find more about this guy, then we would have a little bit historical basis for planning these tours. But then I thought, wow, this is so good, and he was such an interesting character, I would just write a book. The book did become the bi-centennial book of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and it was my first book – and it was a lot of fun doing it.
And I discovered his journals. and I edited those adding illustrations by a really marvelous woman named Jane Hooker, who was this New Haven artist. And so that kind of got me started.
So, the media has recognized you as a writer specializing in Eco-Spirituality. Tell me a little bit about that recognition if you would and about your understanding of the way theology and ecology, and the practice of those disciplines, intertwine.
What shall I say? Well, I’ve was very influenced by John Muir. And John Muir, as you know, grew up in biblical tradition. He had memorized all of the Old Testament by the time he was 12, and most of the New Testament. Yet going out to Yosemite, which was particularly his epiphany, but he had other nature trips. First, he really realized that this is where God is present – this is sacred land, this is my cathedral. And, and I feel that way too. Because I feel, truly going back even perhaps to my past, that I might have had a dysfunctional family but nature was always there.
Nature was always beautiful, though violent at times, but always regenerative. And, in fact, the land we walk on is really sacred ground. And, I saw, going back to my experience with the Lakota people, that they thought of the world of the land differently than we did. They thought that it was sacred, they thought that the sky was sacred. This is just built into their DNA, the sky, the winds, the animals are sacred. And it’s been my feeling, and that others very much like me, John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker at the Yale Forum for Religion and Ecology, that the churches need to open themselves up to the natural world as really a primary teacher. And I hope it’s not good sounding heretical to say that, that we have the Trinity of three persons – and God, the Creator … well, things have changed, we’ll have to say … is very much being eclipsed in the face of Jesus, the Redeemer.
And so, the three aspects of the Trinity are not treated equally. And, now is the time and our planet is truly suffering, as you know. And so the churches have a great role in opening up their doors and seeing that sacredness extends beyond the beautiful windows and the church … and even the community and even the people. Churches have a role in saying, “Well, who is my neighbor?” Well my neighbor is not just the neighbor sitting beside me in the church or where I live, but my neighbor is the animals, the ground, the plants, the sea, the sky. My neighbor is all of creation, and to widen their prayers and widen their spirituality to that idea of that my neighbor is the world – my neighbor is creation.
Which is including many people, many cultures.
So, please allow me one last big question. You know, I was thinking about ‘healing’. Healing seems to be one of the primary themes that runs through most of your work because, you know, we’re not the Garden of Eden anymore. We have got problems and we’ve got things that need healing. How do you understand that concept or that process today? I know that we started out talking about lament. What does that look like for you today? Is it the same or different?
I think that we need to acknowledge what hurts. We need to acknowledge the causes of lament. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the work of Joanna Macy? Joanna Macy is very much influenced by Buddhist tradition. And she kind of got her name through naming the dangers of nuclear build-up and nuclear weapons. And one of her conclusions – and she’s basically moved over to [writing about] the environment – was that we need to acknowledge the hurt, we need to acknowledge the danger, and only in acknowledging danger can we build ourselves up?
We have to break down the barriers. We do have to have to acknowledge the hurt. And, I’d say the other thing with healing, is if you want to talk about healing – I get healing every day. See there’s a field there [gesturing out through the window]. I wake up at six every morning and I take a little hike through the woods to that field. Then I’ll take a hike in the afternoon. So, creation is very hurt. We have many hurt people and hurt communities. The only way I combat that – just speaking for myself – is by a good dose of nature every day. The Japanese call it “nature bathing”. I just call it, “just taking a walk in the woods”.
On Monday, January 30th The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey W. Mello. received a gift, an exterior portrait of Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, from Cathedral artist, Deborah Simmons which led to us learning more about her story as an artist. Nothing prepared us for the eclectic interwoven aspects of visual arts, music education, and mathematics that cohesively danced to the heartbeat of a rich lineage. Nothing prepared us for the spiritual intergenerational journey that laid down the literal and metaphorical foundation for boatbuilding.
Deborah Simmons, originally from Greensboro, North Carolina is a current Christ Church Cathedral attendee and a Music Professor & Program Coordinator of the Music Studies Associated Degree program at Manchester Community College, soon to be CT State Community College-Manchester. Her notabilia does not end there, she’s also a digital artist that created works coined as “enhanced photographs,” a process in which she draws directly onto photographed images, similarly to the art piece gifted to our Bishop Diocesan, and you probably guessed it, she is also a boat builder!
What’s fascinating about Deborah Simmons is her deep intergenerational connection that spiritually led her to the craft of boat building:
“I have a genetic connection to boat builders and shantymen* (African sailors who sung using songs of hymnal & gospel descent to synchronize the pulling of their nets). My father, William Otto Simmons, Jr., was an electronic technician for the post office in Greensboro. Using the G.I. Bill from his time in the final years of WWII, he enrolled at North Carolina A & T University. His degree in commercial engineering gave him the skills in carpentry, plumbing and electrical. When I was little, he would teach me how to use tools to build things.”
How Simons arts discipline served as a basis for her boat building:
“My father was my first music teacher. By 4th grade he purchased a plastic guitar that could be tuned and a guitar method book. He had taken a semester of music theory in college. I flipped a coin to determine if my major would be visual art or music so I attended Winston-Salem State University and majored in music-bass clarinet with a minor in piano. In 1979, I received scholarships to attend Teachers College Columbia University. Completed degrees in Music Therapy Special Ed, Masters of Ed in Music Education, and a Doctorate in Music Education.”
Deborah Simmons first Episcopal experiencevia her Music Theory Special Ed Degree:
“I did an internship in Southbury, CT. My roommate, Patty Visk, was from Fishkill, NY. Visiting her folks on the weekends, we attended church. Her family were members of the Episcopal Church. I was raised United Church of Christ. Learning about her church was an eye opener.”
How her Doctorate in Music Education led to Visual Arts:
“To achieve the doctorate in music education, I had to leave the music therapy field and return to traditional teaching. It took my mother, grandmother and godmother passing in 1985-1986 to arrive at the conclusion that I had to leave NY. Meeting an administrator from the Hartford School system on one of the flights home led to my being employed at Fox Middle School. I work there for 7.5 years before taking the position at Manchester Community College. In 2016 we became an accredited institution by the National Association for Schools of Music. A benefit of working at the college is being able to take courses for free. Since my employ in 1995, I have taken numerous visual art courses. The courses included ceramics, 2/3D design and two studio drawing courses.”
Simmons calling to water:
“For many years I lived in the West End of Hartford. Teaching in Hartford and working in Manchester I had to cross the river every day. I began to see the river. Living so near the CT river, I begun to doing map art. I would take nautical charts of the river and coastline and enhanced them using inks and gold leaf. Around 2010, I was invited to exhibit in a group show with the theme about water. I had a crazy idea to build a boat and incorporate the river map design down the center console. The exhibition was cancelled due to a curatorial change with the gallery, but I learned how to build a boat.”
With no formal boat building knowledge, Deborah managed to pull from her childhood upbringing around music, art, and math that aided her in constructing her very first live boat, The Mende Libertè which translates to “Mende Free.” That same boat she crafted with her own hands won 1st place in 2015 for both ‘small craft dingy,’ which is maritime lingo for “small boat,” and judge’s choice award at the Mystic Seaport Exhibit.
“One thing lead to another and I decided to exhibit the boat at the 2015 Wooden Boat Show at Mystic Seaport. I won 1st place judge’s choice and 1st place small craft dinghy. At the end of the weekend I was given a piece of Iroko wood used for the decking of the Amistad replica. I was told by Quentin Snediker, at the time Director of the Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard.”
What’s interesting is that she was able to infuse actual wood from The Amistad, an infamous 1839 sailing vessel which illegally captured enslaved people who managed to regain control of the ship. A case well-known to the New Haven, CT community that shook the legal & diplomatic foundations of the nation’s government and brought the issue of enslavement to the forefront of American politics. Resulting in the Africans winning their freedom before the US Supreme court in 1841 and returned to their homeland.
54 He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? 55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 56 And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” 57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” 58 And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.
Deborah Simmons’ story is a powerful one within our Episcopal community and is a beautiful tale that exhibits the power of our intergenerational roots. We highlight her as Black History month comes to a close. She is a great addition to #EpiscopalBlackHistory and jumpstart to Women’s History Month. There are not many POC or women within the current maritime industry and Deborah’s story reminded us of the above bible verse: Although many were astounded by her wisdom & craftsmanship as a newcomer to boat building she leaned into her lineage and gained the nautical knowledge from her ancestors and carpentry skillset from her father. In response to those who may have questioned her belonging, Is she not a carpenter’s daughter?
February 2nd is the Feast of The Presentation of Our Lord
Previously, we discussed the conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle who was blind, not just of sight, but blind of heart. After regaining his sight, he was able to look at people he held bias against differently than before. From this story we learned what it means when our faith lacks love. When we hold space for love within our faith, we can see God in others.
This week as we venture into February we reflect on the presentation of baby Jesus, when Mary and Joseph took him to the temple. Luke 2:22 narrates the purification ceremony, required by the law of Moses, that takes place 40 days after a 1st born son is brought into the world.
During this ceremony a burnt offering occurs: a symbolic representation of commitment & surrender to God. A burnt offering, which translates to “ascent” or “stairway” in Hebrew (olah), is a way to atone for sin and show appreciation for the Lord.
Much like the burnt offerings given during the purification ceremony at the temple, this is a time when we offer ourselves to the Lord and surrender to His refining fire; creating in us a pure and clean heart, removing any impurities that blind us, similarly to Saul. There may be periods of discomfort as God purifies us from within to gain clearer sight but let this process encourage us, as it is his overriding commitment to grow us closer to Him.
The Presentation of Our Lord poses a larger theme about ascending to love through God’s light of revelation, Jesus Christ. As our hearts and minds become illuminated by the purifying light of Christ on this day, let it further reveal the significance of acting in harmony as God’s creation, not only within ourselves, but also with others around us. When we activate the spirit of unified love, we enter an expansion that reflects spiritual growth.
When we give unconditional love to our siblings in Christ and compassion to ourselves, it creates a cycle of love that flows back to us, allowing us to truly see the light, God’s grace, and the love of Christ, in everyone. The only way we can truly be siblings in Christ is to love like Christ which will bring about a new way of belonging.
The Season of Refinement is about showing up and making a conscious effort to grow our hearts in the light of Christ and expand our experiences to a boundless loving mindset so we may present ourselves to God in a way that Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple. Consider your community and what needs to be tested by refiners’ fire to look more like God’s Kingdom.
You have a deep knowing that when you pray, meditate, or simply sit in stillness that you open a channel of connection to God, where loving energy and information flows to you and through you.
Adapted from the Sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wallingford, CT
By Amy Foster
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
On a sunny Sunday in June that serendipitously fell on Juneteenth, a day we had slated to honor the legacy of two former enslaved people in our own church by installing two Witness Stones, our lectionary felt like a gift from the heavens. As always, there were moments throughout the service in which we were reminded of our Christian mission to love others as ourselves, but Paul’s Letter to the Galatians seemed penned almost particularly for the day at hand. In it, Paul argues that we need to break down barriers and distinctions, recognizing, as he says in chapter 6, verse 2 of the letter that God shows no partiality. (Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians because some of them were listening to a group that was trying to limit and exclude certain types of people from the Christian movement in the first century.) Throughout the writing, Paul is adamant that because we are all equal in the eyes of God, we need to treat each other that way as well. Paul argues for inclusivity and love of neighbor (every neighbor!)—in this letter he reiterates Jesus’ Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
This emphasis on inclusivity is behind much of the work of the Resolution 7 Task Force here at St. Paul’s. This task force was put together to carry out the ECCT resolution in 2020 that stated, among other things, that each parish would “take steps to research and document historic complicity in racism in their parish and communities.” In doing our research, with the help of both the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust and the Witness Stones Project, our goal has been to be more inclusive in understanding a fuller picture of our history as a parish.
We have learned through our work that there were at the very least about a dozen people enslaved by members of our parish, including by one of our rectors. We are taking steps to lift up the lives and labors of those enslaved people, to include them as an important part of the story of our community.
When we first started our research, Grace and Esau, whom we honor today, were our first discoveries because, in fact, they are actually named in the published St. Paul’s history that has been in use for decades! Grace and Esau were enslaved by Titus and Mary Brockett who were significant benefactors of the church in the mid-1700s. Mary outlived her husband Titus, and upon her death in 1777 she granted freedom to Grace. We can presume that Esau already had been freed by that point, as both Grace and Esau were granted a dwelling, some property, a cow, a bed, pots, and more, all of which would revert back to St. Paul’s upon their death. Based on property records found in the Wallingford Town Hall by The Witness Stones Project, we discovered that Esau became a small businessman, buying and trading a number of properties. Grace worked as a spinner and weaver, and she farmed alongside Esau. From census records we can determine that Grace died sometime after 1830 and Esau after 1840.
This is about all we know about these two individuals, and so I wonder about all that we don’t know. What were their lives really like? Were they able to get an education? Even when they were emancipated, what was it like for them to live in Wallingford—where were they welcome, and from where were they excluded? Were they ever allowed inside the church building—a building whose funding was partly made possible by their own labors? And what about their names? Were they given by their parents or by their enslavers? In fact, did they even have the opportunity to get to know their parents?
We will likely never fully know what the lives of Grace and Esau were like, but the parts of their stories that we do know help us understand just a bit more fully the story of our past. By learning more about everyone who contributed to our community, whether directly or indirectly, we develop a more inclusive and complete understanding of who we are. And, even more importantly, by recognizing and acknowledging injustices, whether past or present, we will be motivated to continue to work for a world in which all human beings are treated with dignity and justice. We know there is work to be done. We see it in the national news every day. We see it right here in our own town in the hateful and racist graffiti that was recently painted on our Vietnam War memorial. And we see it in the continued systemic inequities in so many parts of everyday life. Let us pray that our work with the Witness Stones Project and our continued learning will spur us to strive for a world in which there is no partiality so that we can someday live out the vision of unity expressed by Paul…so that, in all of our beautiful difference, we can be one.
All are welcome to join a workshop to learn more about Grace and Esau and about the history of slavery in Connecticut presented by the Witness Stones Project at St. Paul’s Wallingford (65 N. Main St., Wallingford, CT) on November 6 at 4:00 pm. The presentation will be followed by a prayer service. For more information contact the church at 203-269-5050.
The annual remembrance of Dr. King draws our attention to his call for unity across racial division. This message continues to resonate and inspire us today. However, in honor of him, we would do well to remember his other calls to action. At his death, Dr. King was fighting against what he called the “triplets of evil”– militarism, racism, and economic injustice– a combination which disregards human value. He and others committed themselves to solidarity with the poor of our nation to fight to close the economic gap by addressing the unholy trinity of these three features of American life. The effort was called The Poor People’s Campaign. It could be argued that this is ultimately what got him killed.
The Rev. Dr. William Barber and The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis have breathed new life into the Poor People’s Campaign. Beginning in 2018, “from Mother’s Day to the Summer Solstice, poor people and moral witnesses in 40 states committed themselves to a season of direct action to launch the Campaign. What ensued was the most expansive wave of nonviolent civil disobedience in the 21st century United States. More than a series of rallies and actions, a new organism of state-based movements was born. Now, in over 40 states, the groundwork for a mass poor people’s movement is emerging.” 1 This revival of the Poor People’s Campaign came 50 years after Dr. King died working on it.
Then, as now, the Poor People’s Campaign called for attention to:
Poverty and Inequality
War Economy and Militarism
When the “triplets of evil”—militarism, racism, and economic injustice— come together, they create an environment of exploitation and disregard. Evil grows up around and through us, seemingly with ease. As the Poor People’s Campaign goes on to say:
“Today, 50 years after Rev. Dr. King and the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign declared that “silence was betrayal,” we are coming together to break the silence and tell the truth about the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy and our distorted moral narrative. The truth is that systemic racism allows us to deny the humanity of others; by denying the humanity of others, we are given permission to exploit or exclude people economically; by exploiting and excluding people economically, we are emboldened to abuse our military powers and, through violence and war, control resources; this quest for the control of resources leads to the potential destruction of our entire ecosystem and everything living in it. And the current moral narrative of our nation both justifies this cycle and distracts us from it.” 2
In Dr. King’s final book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, published posthumously, we hear his prophetic words for that present moment speak to our present moment.
“We have ancient habits to deal with, vast structures of power, indescribably complicated problems to solve. But unless we abdicate our humanity all together and succumb to fear and impotence in the presence of the weapons we ourselves have created, it is as possible and as urgent to put an end to war and violence between nations as it is to put an end to poverty and racial injustice…I do not minimize the complexity of the problems that need to be faced in achieving disarmament and peace. But I am convinced that we shall not have the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters unless in this field we are prepared to undergo a mental and spiritual re-evaluation, a change of focus which will enable us to see that the things that seem most real and powerful are indeed now unreal and have come under sentence of death. We need to make a supreme effort to generate the readiness, indeed the eagerness, to enter into the new world which is now possible, ‘the city which hath foundation, whose Building and Maker is God.’”3
The Poor People’s Campaign in its current inception helps us have “the will, the courage and the insight to deal with such matters.” The Rev. Canon Ranjit K. Mathews and I are inviting interested persons to a planning meeting on Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. via Zoom, to begin to lay the groundwork for a Connecticut presence at the Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington on June 18, 2022. Learn more about how you can participate in this planning meeting.
We hope that you’ll be inspired by the closing words of Dr. King’s final book.
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’ There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. ‘The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…’ We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.” 4
One of many teachings that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared through his life is that as baptized followers of Jesus, our ministry will inevitably be political. He didn’t necessarily name this; but he certainly embodied it.
As Episcopalians, however, it is important that we name politics and that as followers of Jesus, we will have to be political to move into the work that Jesus told us to do, in his name.
Episcopalians find the word “politics” within Church settings difficult because when we hear the word, we think of electoral partisanship. And of course, Churches should never be sites of political partisanship. However, by the very nature of following Jesus and how he called us to live:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
we will be political. And like renowned Rabbi Danya Ruttenburg says, “my tradition has policy implications.”
This is but one of the many ways, we can learn from the life of Dr. King.
If we are not able to acknowledge the deeply political dimension of the Gospel, we end up making the Dr. King holiday an idol we worship, celebrating the man, but evading the call to embody the work of Christ.
The reality is the holiday has become a national and even an ecclesial idol, a chance for a majority of the United States and people of faith to talk about a so called “post-racial society, pontificate in a book club about racial justice,” but stopping from taking the next collective step forward as a society to challenge systemic injustice. The holiday has become an opiate to embodied justice work.
Jesus never called us to worship him; but to follow him. It is always time to talk, ponder, and stretch our own moral imagination to the life of Dr. King; but we should not stop there. Our communal reality calls us to embody, to live a life that is radiant with justice. What we profess on a Sunday morning needs to live on, on a Monday.
In what ways can you take another step forward in embodying the Gospel? In a culture of silence, speak the Truth in Love. Do some research on the Poor People’s Campaign. There are endless opportunities and I invite you to take the next right step.
Holy Women, Holy Men: Martin Luther King, Jr.(pg. 307)
Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer: For Social Justice(pg. 260)
Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Holy Women, Holy Men: Martin Luther King, Jr. (pg. 307)
Almighty God, who by the hand of Moses thy servant didst lead thy people out of slavery, and didst make them free at last: Grant that thy Church, following the example of thy prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of thy love, and may strive to secure for all thy children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer: For Social Justice(pg. 209)
Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Prayers from The Book of Common Prayer
For Social Justice (pg. 823)
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Poor and the Neglected (pg. 826)
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For the Oppressed (pg. 826)
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Thanksgiving For the Diversity of Races and Cultures (pg. 840)
O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.