Trail of Souls pilgrims at the Claggett Center in 2014

by Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist

The Diocese of Maryland’s 2020 Convention voted to allocate $1 million towards reparations for slavery, and since then several Episcopal dioceses and other church entities have been asking, “How did you get to that point? What did you do?”. To answer that question, we must go back to our history, delve into our past, and uncover a complicated answer.

The Episcopal Church first passed a resolution stating that the Church must “consistently oppose and combat discrimination based on color or race in every form, both within the church and without, in this country and internationally” in 1952. In 1959, the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU) was founded, having as one of its goals the removal of all segregation from the life of the Episcopal Church. The General Convention of 1961 passed a resolution saying, “Prejudice is inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and that the church expressed penitence for racial discrimination and segregation and encouraged studies into race relations and an integrated society. The organizational meeting of the Diocese of Maryland  ESCRU chapter took place on December 10, 1961, at a Service of Witness held at Grace & St. Peter’s, Baltimore. The list of members was headed by Bishop Harry Lee Doll, 31 other clergy (including the dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, John N. Peabody) and 65 lay members from around the diocese.

The February 1962 Maryland Diocesan Convention passed a resolution asking every congregation, parish, school and church-related organization in the diocese to “declare publicly that their organizations accept fully the qualified applicants for admission, or for the services they offer, without regard to the race or national origin of such applicants.”

Between 1962 and 1991, the impetus for action around racial justice issues seemed to wane in the diocese. Despite General Convention’s 1982 resolution asking every diocese to establish committees on racism, the only diocesan resolution concerning racism was put forth in 1985: “To identify the destructive effects of racism within the structures and activities of our Church and within our communities, and to devise and implement plans to combat these effects.” No report reflecting this resolution was submitted from 1986-1991.

General Convention 1991 urged each diocese to conduct an audit of institutional racism, and to address institutional church racism in the next three triennia. The 1991 Diocesan Convention passed a resolution asking the bishop to form a diocesan Task Force on Racism and Racial Justice which was charged with reporting its findings to the next Convention. The explanation for that resolution read in part, “Although the problem of racism has been an issue of profound and continuing significance within our diocese, as within American society as a whole, the past decade has seen it to be neglected in favor of concentration on material rather than spiritual values.” Minutes of the committee show that they focused on defining racism, tried to build a trusting community within the group, and discussed racism and related issues. At the 1993 Diocesan Convention, a resolution was put forward to recommission the Task Force to “study racism in the diocese, raise consciousness, and offer guidance,” and add $1,000 to the budget to help fund the study. A substitute resolution asked for $10,000 instead of $1,000, stating that “If we are to be credible … we must be prepared to allot sufficient resources – to include financial resources – to effectively approach the problem of racism with our Diocese.” The substitute resolution passed. The next year, when no report by the Task force appeared, but was said to be “on its way,” the money set aside was cut back to $1,000. The 1995 Diocesan Convention again recommissioned the Task Force, but the topic of racism was not again discussed by Diocesan Convention until 2003.

Service of Ministries Sponsored by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity (ESCRU)
From left to right: The Rev. Jon Crosby, Bishop Alphaeus Zulu of South Africa, the Rev. Van Bird,
Grace and St. Peter’s Church, January 31, 1963

The House of Bishops issued a pastoral letter in 1994 to be read in all congregations in The Episcopal Church entitled “The Sin of Racism,” and General Convention passed resolutions that year encouraging all church bodies to make overcoming the sin of racism a priority. In 2000, the commitment to extend anti-racism discussions for another nine years was passed by General Convention, as well as a requirement that all employees of the Church take anti-racism training.

The Diocese of Maryland implemented anti-racism training in 2003, and in 2004 Diocesan Convention passed a resolution forming a task force to oversee “the discussion of restitution/reparation” for slavery, and work in conjunction with the anti-racism task force. In 2006, General Convention resolved to study how the Episcopal Church has financially benefitted from slavery and racism, while encouraging each diocese and parish to do the same. The bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, Robert W. Ihloff, instructed the diocesan archivist and historiographer to begin work on such research, which culminated in the presentation of a paper delivered to the 2007 Williamsburg conference sponsored by the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, National Episcopal Historians and Archivists and the Episcopal Women’s History Project, and attended by the Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts-Schori.

Diocesan commitment to the cause of racial justice was further advanced at the 2007 Convention with the adoption of Resolution 2007-05, An Apology for Slavery, “the 223rd Convention of the Diocese of Maryland, meeting May 4-5, 2007, confesses to God and to one another its complicity in its perpetuation of the sin of racism, and apologizes for the Anglican Church in Colonial Maryland and of the Episcopal Church in the State of Maryland for their role in the slavery of African-Americans and in the subsequent racial injustice.” The Reparations Task Force encouraged “each parish to research their own histories and discover how they may have contributed to and profited from slavery and its residual effects.” In 2008 the Task Force reported that it had studied the issue of reparations, and considered what steps to take following the apology for slavery; they held informational meetings, watched films, and encouraged addressing social needs. That same year, Eugene Taylor Sutton was elected Bishop of Maryland, the first African American to be so elected.

Bishop Sutton reconstituted the Reparations Task Force and the Anti-Racism Task Force into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in the first year of his Episcopacy. Working towards the goal and aim of truth-telling, the TRC took to heart the church’s admonition to restore all people to unity with God and each other. Honest reflection requires commitment to a journey (personally, as a parish, a diocese, and a Church) down the path of discovering the truth, atoning for any wrong-doing and committing to repair what has been broken. In 2011, the Rev. Angela Shepherd, rector of St. Philip’s Church in Annapolis, a traditionally African American parish, was appointed Canon for Mission and Outreach, and she became the co-chair of the TRC.  The commission aims to “work for justice, peace and enlightenment as it pertains to past, present and future concerns around race.” That year the TRC sponsored a conscience-raising resolution at Diocesan Convention encouraging all search committees to “equally consider all persons who may present themselves to serve without regard to race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or age.”

Seeing the Face of God in Each Other anti-racism workshops were lead throughout the diocese, and plans were made to for the Trail of Souls pilgrimage, November 1, 2014. The event was promoted as a “day of remembering the past, celebrating accomplishments and visioning the future.” A bus pilgrimage journeyed throughout the dioceses of Maryland and Washington, beginning at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, and ending at the Hasselbach Family cemetery at the Claggett Center.

Cover of Trail of Souls Booklet, 2014

Cover of Trail of Souls II Booklet, 2017

Legacies and Promise: 400 Years of Anglican/Episcopal History, June 24-27, 2007

By 2016, over 500 people had attended anti-racism training in the diocese, and a second Trail of Souls was organized, featuring the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Harvey, the author of Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation. The same year, the TRC sponsored a Convention Resolution urging compliance with the anti-racism training requirement for lay and ordained leadership, and a group of clergy submitted a Resolution urging the diocese to “give an amount equivalent to at least ten percent of the assets of its unrestricted investment funds to the diocesan chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) as an initial act of reparation”. The explanation added “it is important for white Episcopalians to take ownership of our role and privilege … This resolution is coming from neither the TRC nor the UBE, but from a handful of white convention delegates”. After spirited debate, the Resolution was committed to the Diocesan Council, which makes the budget, for further consideration. The Council formed an ad hoc Committee on Reparations which set about “developing a means for diocesan-wide discussions/education about reparations.”

Bishop Sutton painstakingly wrote a Pastoral Letter intended for the whole diocese in May 2019. He outlined his vision of a Beloved Community, traced the history of how the Church benefitted from slavery and racism, and spoke about what reparations meant: “repair what is 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. It is time for all of us to understand how power gained by force and wielded unevenly impacts African Americans in this country. There can be no love without justice, and there can be no justice without some form of repairing an injustice.”

At the 2019 Diocesan Convention, the Diocesan Council and its Reparations Committee submitted a resolution calling upon the diocese “to continue this important conversation about racial reconciliation so that tangible actions may result in significant positive impact in our diocese and its local communities.” The 2020 Diocesan Convention unanimously passed the Diocesan Council’s resolution for “the creation of a reparations fund with an initial investment of $1,000,000 from diocesan resources to the work of reparations in the Diocese of Maryland and oversee its use.” From the Diocese of Maryland’s initial foray into studying racism and its long-reaching effects to creating a million-dollar fund to “participate in God’s reconciling work” encompassed a period of nearly 60 years. The names of those in the diocese who worked long years towards the goal of reconciliation may have been forgotten, but the building locks for our ongoing hard work of telling the truth and responding to the call to become a beloved community have been laid. It is folly to think our journey is over. More difficult work, soul-searching, fact-finding and mind-changing is still ahead. But the Diocese of Maryland has begun its journey to, as Bishop Sutton said in his Pastoral Letter, “fulfil God’s dream that all people experience dignity and abundant life, and see themselves as beloved children of God.”

“Slavery in the Anglican and Episcopal Church of Maryland”