Originally published May 17, 2019
On Saturday, May 11, 2019 the Diocese of Maryland made history. After a healthy debate at its 235th diocesan convention, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton called for a vote on the Resolution on Racial Reconciliation (see full text below). The “All in favor of this resolution” call resulted in a rousing voice vote of “Aye!” Then came the “All opposed…” vote. There was complete silence. Despite a widely anticipated divisive outcome to the issue, the resolution that had in part called for Episcopalians to study and support the concept of reparations had passed unanimously.
For decades, the Diocese of Maryland has been doing its work on racial justice, reconciliation and reparations (see Appendix A in pastoral letter). In the past five years those efforts have picked up speed. Twenty-six parishes committed themselves to a journey that would take them deep into their history, illuminate their present and lead them into a future with a renewed commitment to racial reconciliation. The result was a project called the Trail of Souls.
November 1, 2014 was the 150th anniversary of the repeal of chattel slavery in the state of Maryland, which occurred on November 1, 1864. On that anniversary date, the diocese held a Day of Repentance and Reconciliation, kicking off the pilgrimage portion of Trail of Souls. Three years later, there was a second pilgrimage to churches in Baltimore City. The journey continues with research, storytelling and truth telling and dialogue.
Bishop Sutton, in his May 2019 Pastoral Letter on Racial Reconciliation, has urged all congregations in the Diocese of Maryland to engage in study, exploration and self-examination on the subject of reparations. In addition, the letter proposes solutions for building a community of love through programs that support reparations. The letter, with accompanying appendices, resources and reflection questions, is available below. Workshops will be offered in the fall by the diocesan Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Watch the videos below to learn more about the Diocese of Maryland’s work on reparations and future actions. Below also, is a segment of the letter highlighting current programs and proposing future actions:
“The Sutton Scholars® High School Enrichment Program is a good example of a type of reparations. This program is designed to help inner city youth, particularly black youth. Its aim is to make their high school years a successful venture and to not allow them to fall prey to the many traps that confront them, or to live into the prevailing belief that they are “less than” others in our society. Programs such as this have proven to offer a significant contribution to helping young black youth stay out of the criminal justice system. These kinds of programs are invaluable in helping to repair the brokenness.
Other possibilities are:
■ Improve existing housing assistance programs that help Black Americans move towards purchasing homes.
■ Develop mixed-use housing that helps create communities of various socio-economic groups and not just low-income housing that creates communities that become alienated and labeled.
■ Invest in existing communities by bringing desperately needed services such as grocery stores that are affordable; urgent care centers; community centers for not only youth, but all ages; pharmacies; green spaces/community gardens.
■ Develop and implement meaningful job training programs that are partnered with corporations and local businesses for actual job placement. These programs must also include social services, such as case management and financial literacy programs, to increase opportunities for long-term employment and successful personal money management.
■ Encourage seminaries to have at least a 30% ratio of faculty of color. As well, develop and implement non-traditional paths for ordination for black students who have been denied entry into seminary because of lack of undergraduate degrees but have the capacity for ministry. Finally, offer free or significantly reduced tuition for seminary training.
■ Provide free tuition at community colleges for black Americans and reduced tuition at undergraduate schools and graduate programs.
These are some suggestions and you will have others. Is there a ministry you are passionate about that helps repair the inequalities in our society of the legacy of slavery? Do you work with organizations outside the Church that are doing this work? Do you have ideas for new ministries that would help build the Beloved Community?”
Bishop Sutton speaks at the Hasselbach family graveyard with Mr. Waymon Wright, Truth and Reconciliation Commission member and parishioner at All Saints’, Frederick
Bishop Sutton reads his pastoral letter on reparations, which was affirmed by resolution 2019-06
Resolution 2019-06, Racial Reconciliation
RESOLVED, that this 235th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland commits to taking tangible
actions toward racial reconciliation in our local context, specifically regarding descendants of
formerly enslaved Africans, as well as the legacy that impacts black and brown persons; and be it
RESOLVED, that this 235th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland affirms the Bishop of Maryland’s
2019 pastoral letter on racial reconciliation, and be it further
RESOLVED, that this 235th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland shall require Seeing the Face of
God in Each Other to be renewed every five (5) years for all required participants; and be it further
RESOLVED, that this 235th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland directs the Diocesan Council to
continue fostering formational conversations around the definition and understanding of
reparations and other acts of racial reconciliation in the context of the diocese and its communities,
especially including the diocesan Truth and Reconciliation Commission and diocesan Pauli Murray
Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians; and be it further
RESOLVED, that this 235th Convention of the Diocese of Maryland encourages all congregations to
examine how their endowed wealth is tied to the institution of slavery.
Excerpts from the Bishop's Letter, arranged by the Rev. T. James. Snodgrass, rector, St. John's, Havre de Grace
We know that God has a great vision for all of us – the dream of our becoming and living as a Beloved Community. In this dream of God’s, all people experience dignity and abundant life, and see themselves and others as beloved children of God. The dream is deeply rooted in our Christian faith and expressed in our Baptismal covenant. It is a hope that promises transformation throughout the Church and the world by following the way of Christ, by actually striving to live in the way Christ taught us—respecting and loving every person, and advocating for true peace and true justice. . . In the Diocese of Maryland, we are faithfully living into our vision of being a community of love. . . People in the United States, in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of Maryland have inherited our share of breaches and broken places, especially with our legacy of slavery
The subject of reparations is mired in emotion; The issue highlights the racial divide among us, creates varying levels of resentment and suspicion, and accentuates a pain that has long plagued our country since its founding. Reparations, at its base, means to repair that which has been broken. It is not just about monetary compensation. An act of reparation is the attempt to make whole again, and/or to restore; to offer atonement; to make amends; to reconcile for a wrong or injury. Isn’t that our work in this broken world? As the Church, our primary mission is “restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” (BCP, p. 855). This is our primary call and charge, and we take on this responsibility by praying, worshipping, proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice and love. Our mission is further met by understanding and living out our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 416), not only with one another, but in the world as witnesses to God’s love for all of God’s people.
Our own commitment to this vision will require honest reflection and a holy devotion to reconciliation. Forgiveness alone is but one step in the long journey to reconcile our past with the present. We need to repairthe broken places and wounds that we have all inherited from centuries of the degrading treatment of our fellow human beings. . . While we take our own share in God’s blessing through the saving work of Jesus Christ, we remain responsible to the call to care for those who are vulnerable, and we must continually be engaged in the work of reconciliation and repair. This is what being a community of love means. There is a heavy burden that comes with being called the people of God, and we must be willing to bear that burden to do those things that God says are important—to care for the poor, to welcome the stranger, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Otherwise we risk becoming hypocrites or false prophets.
The concepts of power and powerlessness have strong emotional impact for each of us. Most of us experience one or both during our lifetimes. The ability to have control of our lives can give us a general sense of security and well-being, while the inability to control our lives leads to a sense of powerlessness, to insecurity, depression and anger. There are consequences to constantly feeling powerless. When we have limited agency, it is incredibly hard to build a life of success, security, and love. Repeated exposure to trauma can lead to post traumatic stress disorder, which only enhances the feeling of powerlessness, as well as further social isolation. As we know from our own family lives, psychological damage from all forms of abuse, verbal and physical, trauma and addiction, penetrates generations. Living under these circumstances is not a recipe for success. This simply isn’t part of God’s dream for us. We Christians are called to weep with our God in sorrow over the love denied our human family members. We are called to weep, pray, love and then act—to repair and reconcile.
It is time for all of us to understand how power gained by force and wielded unevenly impacts African Americans in this country.
Beloved, it will be by our lives and actions with regard to racial reconciliation that we will speak most prophetically to the world. In this way, we are writing a “living Epistle” to the whole Church.
“O God, who is a father to the fatherless, a mother to the motherless, and a friend to the friendless, we come seeking fellowship with your power and peaceful presence. In a culture filled with divisiveness, disconnectedness and domination, we pause for a moment of centered-cosmic Christian connection that will bring wholeness and healing to ourselves and our world.
We take time to worship you, to adore you, to magnify you, and to praise your Holy Name. O God, liberate usfrom the domination of individual and institutional violence. Liberate us forthe ministry of deliverance to the captives within and without. Liberate usfroma self-centered spiritual materialism and liberate ustoserve the present age. Liberate usfrombuilding our kingdoms and liberate usforthe Kingdom of God.
Now O holy God, we thank you for your liberating love which redeems us, restores us, and revives and resurrects us. We thank you for the gift of love you gave us in Jesus Christ. We thank you that it is because of your divine liberating love that we are able to serve, to stand and have this moment of prayer strengthened for the journey of this day. Amen.”
[Prayer written in 1994 by Rev. Frank Madison Reid III, former Pastor, Bethel AME Church, Baltimore, MD, in
CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD: TWO CENTURIES OF PRAYERS BY AFRICAN AMERICANS©1994]
Rev. T. James Snodgrass