Mine Eyes Have Seen The Savior is an account of the experiences of Black Episcopalians in the shadows of social injustice and racial inequality, in a Church wrestling with the angels of demise. It is not the only story of Black Episcopal ministries; rather, it is the beginning of many stories that lay deep in the hearts and memory of Afro-Anglicans, and are yet to be told by historians.
This video project began in 1996 as the Episcopal Church faced a structural shift that would have dissolved all of the ethnic ministry offices, including the Office of Black Ministries. At the Black Ministries Coalition that year, leaders from organizations and groups such as Black Leaders And Diocesan Executives (BLADE) and the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE), along with Black clergy and Black Episcopal bishops, gathered in Hempstead, New York, to talk about the proposed structural shift at the Episcopal Church Center.
Besides their concern about how to address that proposal, the group found that it also wanted a way to preserve the history and oral stories of Black Episcopal ministries as the millennium came to an end. The group challenged the Office of Black Ministries to create a resource that would mark the events in Black Episcopal ministries, a project that led to the video production now known as, âMine Eyes Have Seen The Savior: 400 Years of Black Episcopal Ministries.â As current officer in what was then the Office of Black Ministries (and is now the Office of Black and Urban Ministries), I accepted the responsibility for this challenge to ourselves.
The first task was to convene an editorial committee to provide constant support, assistance, and response throughout the entire project. The Rev. Kris Lee, director of Episcopal Media services, put me in contact with Dan Jatovsky of David Gordon Productions. Together we poured over the manuscripts, research documents, and photographs compiled by previous staff members of the Office of Black Ministries.
We also initiated and oversaw other research projects. In a collection owned by the Rev. Thomas Logan, Sr., D.D., we found historical material from the early years of the Conference of Church Workers Among Colored People, which proved to be invaluable. The Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) provided historical information from the footage of their thirtieth conference, held at St. Augustineâs College in North Carolina. Based on our research, Dan and I created a list of topics and people to include in the video, selected photographs and quotations, and developed a script. With the technical support of Episcopal Media Services and its camera crew, nationwide filming began in 1996.
A crew went to St. Andrewâs Church in Cleveland, Ohio to tape Bishop Arthur Williamsâ narration from the script we had written. Others recruited people from the Episcopal Church Center to do âvoice-overs,â that is, to read historical quotes while the video showed a photo of the speaker. It wasnât easy to find people willing to read some of the material that we presented.
We edited the videotapes and incorporated the historical material, interviews, and narration with music from âMy House Must Be Filledâ and âIt Is Well With My Soul,â two compact music disks also created by the Office of Black Ministries. The editorial committee worked with Daniel Jatovsky to complete the final edit.
The filming of the video was not without its issues and challenges. Early in the project, the committee elected to interview the Black bishops, since many of them had been, and continue to be, the shakers and movers of Black Episcopal ministries. The first script was researched and drafted with the hope that the Rt. Rev. Quintin Primo, Suffragan Bishop of Chicago, would be the first to be interviewed. But after two cancellations, Bishop Primo fell ill and subsequently died before his story was recorded. His death prompted an urgency to complete this video.
Other challenges became evident as we began to research the material on the Conference of Church Workers Among Colored People. The founders of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) only had their recent memory to explain why the Conference of Church Workers Among Colored People was disbanded and UBE was created. Tracing participation in the Womenâs Auxiliary of the Conference of Church Workers proved even more difficult. Many of these wonderful women had gone on to glory and were identified in historical documents only by their surnames. Since these heroic women were not clergy, it was difficult to trace the precise work and contributions of individual women.
Another challenge facing this video was the limited time to present the material, thus the necessity to edit. Since the video is a broad stroke of Black Episcopal ministries, it doesnât capture all the facts, interesting details, and personalities. The video, also admittedly, emphasizes the development of Black ministries on the East Coast and doesnât address the ministries on the West Coast (with the limited exception of some remarks from the perspective of the Rt. Rev. Chester Talton, Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles).
In the midst of filming the video, the structure shifted at the Church Center. That meant combining budgets and resources within departments. Diocesan resources were diminishing, as were the number of young people seeking a vocation in the ministry. There was a growing concern about anti-racism practices disappearing in the Church, and alarm over the decline of the Afro-Anglican voice at the decision-making table at the Church Center. A new strategy evolved at UBEâs thirtieth anniversary conference that identified leadership training as a priority for Black Episcopal ministries.
Thus, in 1999 there were five major conferences for the Black Episcopal Church. Each conference addressed a specific leadership group in the church, while connecting the group with allies: The Bishop Primo and UBE Leadership Summit, designed to train lay leaders, included discussions of church-based community services, ecumenical connections, and techniques to strengthen Black ministries at the local level; The 4th Caribbean Anglican Consultation provided the Caribbean clergy in North America the opportunity to address theological issues of immigration, in light of racism and leadership development among the laity and with other Black churches; The Transformation and Renewal of Black Congregations trained team ministers in Black and urban congregations to build a strong leadership base, providing them with tools to build a more relevant church ministry; The 5th Triennial Black Clergy Conference provided Black clergy the opportunity to write the history, and provided tools for growing healthy Black congregations with limited resources; and The Annual Afro Anglican Youth Facilitatorâs Conference and Adult Youth Advisorâs Conference trained Black youth and those who work with Black youth leaders. Young Black leaders, selected by their parish priests, learned to lead a meeting, lead a Bible study, set an agenda, and work with adult youth advisors.
Mine Eyes Have Seen The Savior: 400 Years of Black Episcopal Ministries uses the oral tradition to capture moments in the history of Black Episcopal ministries. It is our hope that this video reflects the feelings, sentiments, and the just and unjust acts of the human heart. But most of all, it is our greatest desire that this video will be used as a tool to witness to the presence of Godâs Holy Spirit moving in the history of humankind, rekindling the connection with Godâs love in an unloving and intolerable world. Perhaps this video will offer hope to the new generation of leaders who may celebrate racial and ethnic diversity, and embrace and love our many cultures.
âLord, you now have set your servant free,
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
Whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.â
Nunc dimittis (based on Luke 2:29-32)