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Last Friday and Saturday, your delegation attended the 232nd Diocesan Convention in Ellicott City. Representing Old St. Paul’s were The Reverend Mark Stanley, The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley, The Rev. Dr. Chris Dreisbach, Youth Minister Jessica Sexton, Ed Tabor, and me.
Friday began with a convention-wide Eucharist, including an inspiring sermon about Pentecost by Bishop Knudsen. Following that, we discussed each of the resolutions brought before us. Resolutions addressing clergy and lay compensation, alcohol use guidelines, diocesan canons, Cathedral Chapter bylaws, and mandatory diocesan training all passed either as presented or with slight modifications.
Also passed was a resolution to establish a relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico, who had a delegate attend the convention, as well as Mark Stanley’s resolution to have Origen of Alexandria included in the calendar of saints was passed and moves along to be considered at the next General Convention. Way to go Mark!
A resolution to give ten percent of the Diocese’s unrestricted endowment, as an initial reparation for the church’s ties to slavery, to the Union of Black Episcopalians was “committed to diocesan counsel,” which means that it will be further studied and likely reconsidered at a future convention.
The keynote speaker was the Very Reverend Michael Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis, who preached on themes involving the social justice issues of racial disparity and injustice, current events including Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown, the death of Freddie Gray and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Saturday morning began with Morning Prayer and another business session. Bishop Sutton’s address included a description of his recent three month sabbatical for which he is extremely grateful. Bishop Sutton also had high praise for Bishop Knudsen’s ministry among us and we were reminded that she will retire in 2018. Plans for identifying her successor will need to be considered by the time the next convention convenes in 2017.
Bishop Sutton’s message in his address was a renewed initiative concerning the meaning of love. He talked about how we might go about that in a three step process—Encounter, Engage, and Reconcile. He weaved in a continued commitment to the basics of good worship, music, and mission simultaneously.
While it is easy to focus on just the “business” of the Diocesan Convention, it is inspiring to be reminded that there are many committed people, both clergy and lay, who are passionately endeavoring to spread the love of Christ throughout our diocese. Thanks be to God.
On Thursday, May 7, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley asked me to join her in distributing some flowering plants to businesses in Old St. Paul’s neighborhood that were damaged in the recent demonstrations. Mary knew there were at least seven places (Café Poupon, Coffee-Land, 7Eleven, Subway, Lumbini’s, the Indian Grocery Store, and Mick O’Shea’s), because she and The Rev. Mark Stanley had walked the block along Charles Street on Tuesday (from Saratoga to Pleasant) with brooms and dust pans in-hand offering to help clean up. Most of the businesses had windows broken and some had suffered significant theft.
At each place we stopped, we told whoever took the plant that we were from Old St. Paul’s and that we wanted them to know we were sorry they had been damaged and that we supported them as neighbors. Almost every recipient, at first, seemed somewhat surprised but soon were smiling and thanking us for the plant. And, as we shook hands, their appreciation was reflected in the look of gratitude in their eyes.
A few days before this, I stopped in at Coffee-Land to see how they were progressing (and, truth be told, to get one of their delicious cherry Danishes). They were busy serving customers and, when it was my turn, I said to the owner and his wife:
“I am so sorry for what happened to you. It is so very sad.”
He replied: “It was probably more good than it was bad. So many have shown love to us afterwards.”
This week, Mary had a banner made that reads, “One Baltimore: respecting the dignity of every human being.” One of the promises we make at baptism (or when renewing our baptismal vows throughout the year), is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Now this promise is displayed in front of Old St. Paul’s and is putting out a vision for the city.
We have a LOT to do in establishing “One Baltimore.” As we try to find our way in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we can begin by looking for opportunities to connect. Smiling at people waiting at the bus stop and giving a pleasant “Good morning” might help break the ice. Engaging in short but sincere and caring conversations with strangers each day can give personal expression to our vow of “respecting the dignity of each human being.”
—Eileen Donahue Brittain, Treasurer for St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore
Needless to say, there’s a lot going on right now.
Our city is still reeling from last week’s events as we begin to address the issues of stunning inequality, systemic racism, violence, and poverty.
In the midst of all this, many are also having their own personal crises as loved ones pass away or suffer illness, as unsatisfying jobs or the utter lack of them sap energy and optimism, as things don’t work out as hoped, as more die in Texas and Nepal and all around the world. —All of these things have the power to haunt and tear down all our stores of enthusiasm, hope, patience, and empathy if we allow them to.
In last Sunday’s Forum (led by The Reverend Mary Luck Stanley), we were encouraged to share “I” statements about how these issues have made us feel or have altered our perspective on things. I didn’t share anything at The Forum, not knowing how to put it all into words then, but now, here, I’ll do my best:
Last week, I began feeling that nothing I’d previously held important—my work, my regular/daily concerns, my personal goals—was important anymore. In the face of my neighbors’ pain and struggle, all these things so personal to me seemed empty and small.
Last week, I felt exhausted, oscillating seasickly (and often selfishly) between an energetic desire to act and a great energy-sucking despair at not knowing what to do (or, worse, knowing what to do but being too afraid to do it).
Last week, I felt my whiteness (and all the racist advantages it gives me) with an incredible, constant keenness that made me feel terrible about myself and my society.
Last week, I felt the nature of my neighborhood—one of those within Baltimore’s “White L”—with both a tremendous guilt and also an odd (troubling) sort of gratefulness.
Last week, I often felt petulant, petty, resentful, and angry.
But that was last week. And while many of these feelings continue to linger in me and while many of the lessons I’ve learned from this past week will no doubt stay with me for years to come, I have—through meditation, church, friends, and family—come to a much healthier, more energetic, and more hopeful place.
Last week, my husband and I listened to Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates speak about many of the challenges and problems that Baltimore’s been facing for so long now. During the Q&A session, one woman asked Coates what she could do to re-inspire her children who, given all that they’ve seen on the news about the world around them, have come to feel helpless, hopeless, and at a loss. Coates, to my surprise and great appreciation, replied (paraphrasing), “If Ida B. Wells didn’t give up hope, then your kids certainly don’t have a right to.”
Last week, I let myself begin to feel hopeless. Because it was easy.
This week, I am practicing hopefulness because I believe it is what’s right. Consider John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God didn’t send Christ into a world deemed hopeless—but into a world deemed worthy of saving, a world full of possibilities, potential, and love.
And this means it’s all worth fighting for. This means it’s worth not taking the easy way out by falling into self-pity, hopelessness, and prejudice.
This week, I’m ready to take up the challenge Mary posed to us at our last Forum: to live by and look out across a twenty (thirty, forty, however long it takes) year horizon, and continuously open myself up to learn from and listen to my neighbors. For learning and listening are the tools of the hopeful.
For several weeks this winter, our Old St. Paul’s front sign read: Black Lives Matter. In our Sunday forums, we often discuss not only issues of equality in relation to race, but also to gender and sexual orientation as well. (In fact, one of the first forums I attended at Old St. Paul’s was on feminism and the Church, led by Youth Minister Jessica Sexton.) Right now, our vestry is working to get a new ramp installed to enhance ease of accessibility to the church building, showcasing our commitment to also reach out to people regardless of ability or disability. What’s more, Old St. Paul’s continues to actively look for new ways to strengthen and reach out to the fullness of its community, both in and outside of the Church (hence, the number of forums now dedicated to addressing social justice issues).
As a feminist, as someone who spent part of her childhood as a P.K. (a preacher’s kid), who has family members of different races and sexual orientations, who’s lived through a parents’ divorce, who acknowledges evolution and climate change, and who’s had close family members suffer everything from severe illness to death to imprisonment, I have experienced some of the best and worst of church communities. Old St. Paul’s, however, has proven to be nothing but supportive, open-minded, and welcoming—a place dedicated to not only being a true and constructive member of its colorful community, but to encouraging this kind of belonging and community within others.
As a Christian, I have learned that, if you want to consider yourself as belonging to a community or family—whether it’s as an American, Christian, sister, friend, etc.—then you can’t simply come to the parties and celebrate the community’s accomplishments. You have to be there to help shoulder the burdens, pains, and debts of your community as well. At Old St. Paul’s, I’ve been blessed to see just this kind of belonging and community exemplified week after week in both its clergy and laypeople.
My husband and I have attended Old St. Paul’s for just over a year, and we’ve now decided to be officially confirmed this upcoming March. As my confirmation date approaches, I find myself filled with joy, gratefulness, and a renewed sense of belonging. I believe I have found a place where I know I’ll have friends when I need them, and where I will always be honored and glad to extend my hand when called upon.
For more conversation regarding Community and belonging, be sure to check out The Rev. Mary Stanley’s recent post, “The Cost of Community.”