St. James Episcopal Church
732 11th Ave.
Prospect Park, PA 19076
The Rev. Jessie Thompson, Priest-in-Charge
From the Priest-in-Charge’s (home) desk…
1 June 2020
Dear Saints in Seclusion,
Even as I write this letter, the events unfolding in our nation are changing at a rapid pace and I am certain it will feel like I’ve left something out as you receive this. Forgive me. At this point, you like me have been overwhelmed with the harrowing video and reporting on the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. As our Bible study group met this evening to discuss this week’s passages, regardless of anything else, we can all agree that watching the very breath of God that was breathed into all of creation in our Genesis stories be snuffed out and extinguished from a black man, a beloved part of creation, was unbearable.
As part of our baptismal covenant (found on p. 304-5 in the BCP) we agree with God’s help to “persevere in resisting evil, and whenever [we] fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord” and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving [our] neighbor as [ourselves]” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” These are powerful words of a covenant that we renew at least four times a year.
As your Priest-in-Charge, I am called to be both a pastor and a prophet. I have been reading and listening and watching and learning in these scary, angry, sad, and broken days. Whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a country founded on the enslavement of black people, and as such, we have never rectified the systemic racism our society is built on. After seeing black person after black person needlessly killed for being black, it was inevitable that, just like when Jesus entered into the Temple and flipped over the tables to riot the moneychangers who were dishonoring a place of worship, so the riots in these days similarly are a reaction to dishonoring bodies made by God.
We may question how destruction of property is connected to racist killing. I am deeply saddened by the economic impact the last few days of destruction will have on small business owners. I am also worried such acts will only increase tensions in our country and further divide us. Yet it is a struggling economy in the midst of a global pandemic that has helped to lead people to such despair and desperate actions. Hurting people cannot distract themselves from the pain by going to work. They cannot provide food on the table when food stamps are being cut. They do not have health insurance because it was tied to employment, so fear of catching the disease has led to people having less mental resilience or resources in the face of much trauma. Statistically, more people are dying in black communities than white communities from COVID-19. While we may be astounded at what we see on the news, we cannot be surprised given these facts. The events of the past weeks give us a chance to look inside of ourselves and see where we are hurting and where we need compassion. I wonder if we are more upset over the looting of material things than the constant looting of black bodies. I wonder if, by doing so, we miss our baptismal promises and miss what cannot be replaced: human lives.
I know that perhaps for many of us this is either an uncomfortable conversation to have or one we think should stay in politics and out of the pulpit, or perhaps our hearts are angry or sad and we do not know how to have conversations about this or where to begin or who is safe to process this all with. These are not easy conversations, and yet, we cannot be silent and pretend they will go away. If we do that, history will repeat itself and I believe we will be on the wrong side of history. “Resisting evil” means we are committed as Christians to ending systems of oppression and racism, and allowing our faith to speak up for justice, even when we don’t know how to do it.
But we do not do it alone. The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, goes with us to guide us into the faithful lives we proclaim through our creeds and our prayers.
Beloveds, I am committed to upholding my baptismal covenant and my ordination vows to “seek and serve Christ in all”, to “strive for justice and peace among all”, and to “love and serve the people among whom [I] work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor, [black and white].”
I am also committed to doing the hard work of entering into difficult conversations with prayer and love with you about how we might be a community that seeks to welcome all (as our sign out front of the church proclaims), a community that seeks justice and defends the poor and refuses to ascribe to systems that oppress. And just as there is no clear single path to re-opening our buildings post-COVID-19, there is no single path to ending racism. But our faith calls us to it. And our God will be with us.
So, here are two simple ways you can join me and the rest of the church in beginning this deeply faithful work:
· Our Diocese offers excellent Anti-Racism Training and one is coming up on Saturday, June 13. It’s online, free, and easy to register for (https://www.diopa.org/events/anti-racism-training-history-and-race4). “Lailah Dunbar-Keeys, M.S., M.Ed, Adjunct Professor of Sociology at the Community College of Philadelphia leads the second of four trainings presented this year by the Anti-Racism Commission. Attending this is really a good foundation and the beginning of a lifetime of learning about racism and racial healing.”
· Read the statements made on Racial Justice & Reconciliation (https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/tag/racial-justice/) by our Presiding Bishop, Diocesan Bishops, and other clergy members to see how the Episcopal Church is responding to what is happening in our world, and pray through those statements, seeing where God’s Spirit directs you.
Please reach out through a phone call or email if you’d like to further the conversation, want some reputable resources to read or watch, or if you want to read a book together, pray together, or process any of this.
You are loved. You are not alone. And we are in this together as the Body of Christ on earth.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with ALL of you.
The Reverend Jessie Thompson, Priest-in-Charge