“If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope.”
—REV. WILLIAM BARBER II—
Beloved in Christ,
At the outset of this year, I gave us the word “safe” as our mission watchword for the year.
As I said I said then, by “safe,” I do not mean the absence of conflict or danger. “Safe” is not (not ever) an “absence.” Rather, safe means the presence of “connection” and “belonging”—which sometimes takes place in the face of real conflict and danger. I doubled down on this at the annual meeting this February. What I said then is that safe often means doing what feels risky in order to show solidarity and create community with those who might not otherwise feel safe.
And so, I gave us “safe” as our mission watchword for the year so that when the time came, and we were called upon to act, we would already know what we needed to do.
Of course, I had no idea at the time what this year would bring—not only with the pandemic, but now, with Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd all murdered in the name of “law and order.” As we look around us, our city and nation are in an uproar. As our Scholar-in-Residence, Rev. Dr. Courtney Bryant, put it succinctly on Sunday—the roar is building. It should build. And as it does, even where there may be conflict or risk, my hope is that we already know what we need to do.
All Angels Church has a long history of real, embodied diversity and racial reconciliation, reaching all the way back to its earliest days as a mission in Seneca Village. We have strived as a church, not only to serve or show hospitality to our neighbors, but to genuinely join our lives to theirs in mutual relationships. We do this because we believe this was central to the message and mission of Jesus. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus announced at the outset of his ministry, “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).
And yet, even at our best, we have fallen short of our ideals. Connection, belonging, and “safety” are only partial realities in our congregation. Today, implicit boundaries continue to divide various populations in our church. At times, we continue to act in patriarchal ways. We do not always hear our marginalized sisters and brothers. We do not always take their voices as seriously as our own.
What we are seeing throughout our city and nation right now is the outcry of a people who have not yet been heard, whose passion is fueled by the fact that their voices have not yet been taken seriously enough. As a people who have shaped our lives around the mutual, self-giving love of Jesus, this should grieve our hearts, and call us to repent. We have done wrong. More, we have (in the words of the Book of Common Prayer) “left undone” those things which we ought to have done. “We have not loved [God] with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP 360).
We need to hear. We need to repent. And we need to change.
In a recent article for The Guardian, Rev. William Barber II said this:
“If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope. The hope is in the mourning and the screams, which make us want to rush from this place. There is a sense in which right now we must refuse to be comforted too quickly. Only if these screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation—and until there is real political and judicial repentance—can we hope for a better society on the other side of this.”
There’s much more to say, and I promise, we’ll take the time to say it. For now, I’m calling upon us as a church to refuse to be comforted too quickly. I’m calling on us to listen to the wounds—listen to the screams and tears and protests, and have our conscience shaken. I’m calling upon us to make our nation, our city, and our church a safe place for all.