Presiding Bishop brings message of 'Shalom' to Episcopal Urban Caucus conference

February 8, 2007

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addressed nearly 200 members of the Episcopal Urban Caucus (EUC) on February 8 and commended the organization on its mission to relieve oppression and suffering in the world and encouraged members to further examine how its mission can connect to that of the larger church in reconciling the word of God because "the world is not reconciled as long as some live without."

Jefferts Schori was among the keynote speakers for the 27th assembly of the caucus meeting February 7-10 at the Holiday Inn Brownstone, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies; and the Rev. Nelson Johnson, pastor of Faith Community Church, also spoke.

Under the theme "Making the Contacts: Locally and Globally," caucus members have addressed issues including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), slavery and reconciliation, Truth and Reconciliation, economic justice and promoting justice for all people of the Episcopal Church without regard to race, sexuality, or social class.

"This assembly provides an opportunity for members to meet and simply be with each other," said Diane Pollard, EUC treasurer.

Jefferts Schori told those gathered that the work of the church should be focused on building a world of Shalom; providing everything necessary to improve the lives of those living in the margins of society.

"When the least among us are served, the entire community flourishes," she said.

She cited the MDGs as the framework around which reconciliation and the relief of suffering should be built. Referencing the Gospel of Matthew as a call to service and reconciliation, Jefferts Schori said further that the MDGs are today’s illustration of the work of Jesus and his followers.

"The MDGs are the Shalom for the world," said Jefferts Schori.

However she reminded the caucus that while the campaign call for a 0.7 percent contribution by dioceses, parishes, and individuals is a good start to eradicating poverty and lack, it will take funding from federal, state, and local government to finish the job.

Episcopalians must use more than just silent prayer to influence change in systems of injustice in this country and the world, she said. Adding that it is essential for the church to become advocates, and contact lawmakers, challenging them to live up to a higher standard when it comes to giving financial support to the MDGs and campaigns like it.

"Protesters say the church and politics don’t mix, but politics is simply the art of living in the community," said Jefferts Schori. "Members of the church must be willing to use all gifts at our disposal, including government."

'Dream the dreams of Zion'

Jefferts Schori went on to deliver the sermon at the Chapel of the Cross, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for the 30th anniversary of the first Mass celebrated by the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, the nation’s first African American female Episcopal priest.

Murray was a civil rights advocate, feminist, lawyer, poet and teacher. She testified on discrimination against women before the 91st Congress of the United States and co-founded NOW, the National Organization for Women, dedicated to making legal, political, social and economic change in society in order to eliminate sexism and end oppression.

"As we stand here today, we can say with utter confidence that her life and ministry have brought many others to greater awareness, healing, and yes, even friendship, than would have been possible without her strong witness," said Jefferts Schori.

The Chapel of the Cross was also where Murray’s grandmother, a slave, had been baptized in 1854 and Jefferts Schori, citing excepts from Murray's "Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family" (Harper & Row, 1956) said that Murray's memory of that event affirmed that even "a girl child owned by another was God's beloved and worthy of God's own gift and adoption."

Speaking to the "systematic nature of all forms of oppression" Jefferts Schori said Murray understood from an early age the kind of attitudes that today seek to shut out immigrants from countries "to the south of us," the kind of attitudes that still cry out "other, unclean, unwanted."

"As long as any of us is restrained by custom, law, prejudice, or bigotry, we all remain in chains," she said. "Our labors in this church continue to sing of hope for the full flourishing of all God's children, black, white, Native, Asian, women, men, gay and straight, differently abled and full-and-able-bodied."

She encouraged the congregation to dream the "dreams of Zion" and "sing the songs of hope" until the world is set free, and until the "whole creation once more blooms and rejoices."

"We have dreams to dream, proud shoes to put on, and work to do," she said. "May we befriend this world and lay down our lives for our six billion brothers and sisters. Our brother Jesus offered his life in that service, and our sister Pauli did as well. You and I are also God's beloved friends. Can we do any less than lay down our lives for that dream of freedom?"

Keep the faith

"The caucus is an important group because it brings together of a variety of people who are committed to the kind of discipleship that follows Jesus in the ways of love and justice and compassion," said Bishop Michael B. Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina. "They are committed to the practical work of discipleship that for me calls the church to be the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus in the world."

He said "their work is what the Presiding Bishop is calling us to."

Curry preached and Jefferts Schori celebrated the Eucharist at a jazz Mass at Christ Church in Raleigh.

In his sermon, "Keep the Faith," Curry said "faith by its very nature is tough." He admitted that it is not a guarantee or insurance policy but a "radical disposition" and "daring act."

"…Faith is the courage to stand up and speak up, when everyone else just shuts up," said Curry. "It's against the odds, against the evidence, often contrary to the currents of the culture. But it can stand against the odds because it counts on God."

During the service, lay and ordained members of the caucus who have died since the last gathered were honored.

Conference highlights

Participants also viewed the documentary "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North," a feature documentary that tells the story of the DeWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history and also a prominent part of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island. James DeWolf Perry was the 18th Presiding Bishop.

In the film, Katrina Browne, a DeWolf descendant and producer and director of the documentary, narrates while cameras follow her and nine family members in retracing the route of the "Triangle Trade" in slaves, rum, sugar and other goods between Rhode Island, Ghana, Cuba and back to Rhode Island. Browne and family address complex issues of atonement and reconciliation during the journey.

The Assembly also featured a series of workshops:

  • Caring for Needs: looks at Urban Ministries, the Greensboro Housing Coalition, Energy Committed to Offenders and Higher Ground
  • MDGs
  • Empowering Tract: includes presentations from a self-help credit union and crisis assistance
  • Advocacy for Economic Justice: addresses the work of the National Farm Workers and the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)
  • Truth and Reconciliation: presents strategies for beginning a Truth and Reconciliation ministry
  • Healthy Dating: an intergenerational workshop that will focus on dating relationships in the prevention of long-term family violence and help teens form healthy interpersonal relationships.

Site visits -- formally referred to as learning tracks – provided participants with examples of ministries of social justice within the Diocese of North Carolina.

One of the places visited was Saint Augustine’s College where time was spent with faculty and students.

Saint Augustine's College was founded in 1867 in Raleigh, North Carolina by prominent Episcopal clergy for the education of freed slaves. Henry Beard Delany, the first African American suffragan bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, was vice principal of the school. Over the years, it has become one of the country's most highly respected private, accredited, historically black, coeducational institutions of higher learning.

"I especially wanted them to visit Saint Augustine's because it is helping to provide higher education for a number of students who otherwise would not be able to attend college," said Curry. "And since it is the church that is making this possible, their visit helps to put a face on it."

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