Dear People of St. Catherine’s,
We are now in the most “extraordinary” of ordinary times! With Covid19 cases spiking again in Florida, the continuing protests about the death of black men in police custody not going away, our political season beginning in the strange time of social distancing, it is anything but ordinary.
As I was preparing to write this letter to you for the July Wheel, I realized that I have been with you now for a year, helping you to gather your wits, rediscover your community of faith, take stock of yourselves as a parish, and begin the process of calling a new rector. It has been a year of great honor for me and I look forward to the rest of our journey together. We promised ourselves it would be a “Year of Grace” and it has been that and more. Again, I will be with you until your new rector is called and begins his or her ministry with you.
Over the last two months, I have found myself trying to walk with you through a thicket of difficult social issues, understanding that you hold some quite contradictory views on matters of great importance: race, our government, how faith should be exercised in public, and how to engage each other.
I have written you various letters in what I have called our “seminar on faith and citizenship.” Some of you would prefer that “politics” or “activism” be kept out of church. But that cannot be the way we live. Our basic baptismal vows require us to “wade in the water” and get ourselves a little muddied in the process.
This is especially true with the matter of race. How we live in our society, black and white. How we live in our church, black and white. How we see the world, black and white. You are a predominantly white parish, with some African American or African Caribbean members. I know that every member of this parish matters to each of you. But as we enter the summer in this “extraordinary” ordinary time, I want to share with you a few thoughts about being white Christians in this time in our history.
I recently came across a book about to be published next month: White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity. By Robert P. Jones. Mr. Jones grew up attending Southern Baptist Churches and went to a Southern Baptist College. He writes about how stubbornly racist ideas and even a vision of white supremacy has persisted in American churches. For example, in survey after survey, white Christians repeatedly deny that structural racism is a problem. White non-Christians, on the other hand, more often agree with black people that racial discrimination is systemic and continuing.
Episcopal bishops served as generals, not chaplains, in the confederate army. Priests, bishops and pastors preached sermon after sermon justifying slavery as God’s appointed plan – and not just in the South. If you read the sermons in Mississippi in the 1950’s and 1960’s you would never have known there was a civil rights movement. Theology was constructed so that “salvation” was a personal and inner thing disconnected from any claims of social justice – a pattern completely at odds with the Biblical prophets and even Jesus. Black Catholics were required to sit in the back of the church and receive communion last. In my last parish, an African American member related to me that when she first came to that church, people would move away rather than receive communion after her.
I’m not telling this story to judge any member of St. Catherine’s. I am a white Christian, formerly a Methodist and for nearly 50 years an Episcopalian. We have a black Presiding Bishop whom I know. I know the slings and arrows he experienced growing up in Buffalo. I grew up in a church and home that was not, so far as I can remember, deliberately mean or racist. But the sin extends deep and wide, and as Dr. King said “11:00 AM on Sunday morning remains that most segregated hour in America.”
The first step we are all called to take on our journey to conversion is self-examination. I ask you, white parishioners, to take some time this summer, in our “extraordinary” ordinary time, to reflect on your experiences, where perhaps you have been aware of how our “white” church has been blind, or ignorant, or complicit. One of the most faithful African American members of this parish said to me: “It is not my responsibility to teach you what you should know.”
So, think hard, dear people. It is important. You are about to call a new rector to lead you into a new chapter of the life of St. Catherine’s Church. What kind of community do you want to be? What kind of community do you believe God is calling you to be? How might you take a lead in unraveling the terrible knot of racism that still scars the church and our society.
Finally, you may ignore what I say. I’ve been at this priesthood business long enough to know that people don’t agree with me just because I say something. I know that some of you may resent my intruding uncomfortable matters into the loveliness of summertime. But, I just ask you to think about these things. Pray about them. Do the work of self-examination. If you are interested, there is a fine resource for such reflection called a 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge. I’m grateful to a parishioner of St. Catherine’s for bringing it to my attention. Try it if you wish. It’s free! You won’t be graded. Nobody else will know how you do or what you think about it. But it may stir your mind and heart. I invite you to try it. Click here to open the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge.
I hope you all are staying well and out of harm’s way. Our battle with the Covid-19 virus is not over. Please be careful. We will continue our in-person worship and monitor the situation carefully. Have a blessed and sweet summer.
Yours in Christ,
Allen W. Farabee, Interim RectorPosted in Newsletter
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