Presiding bishop: King would 'remind us that the people of Haiti are our brothers and sisters'

January 17, 2010

When 8-year-old Ismail Taylor-Kamara saw the news about the devastation Haiti suffered in last week's earthquake, he e-mailed his priest, the Rev. Canon Sandye Wilson, asking her to help him organize the children at St. Andrew & Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, to help Haitian children.

"He asked the most important question: 'Will you help me?'" said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori after meeting Taylor-Kamara at the church's "Small Fry Mass" for families with small children on Jan. 17. "We can do far more together than we can ever do alone. But it takes a leader to start that."

Jefferts Schori later expanded on that concept of working together, and of everyone's interconnectedness in helping to achieve the dream of God's promised land, in her sermon at the church's main Sunday worship service, which honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and the culmination of the South Orange church's year-long 150th-anniversary celebration.

The festive Eucharist featured multigenerational liturgical dancers, multiple choirs and various instrumentalists -- including Wilson on timpani. An "Invocation of our Ancestors in the Faith" named saints from Julian of Norwich and Patrick of Ireland to Harriet Tubman, Thurgood Marshall and martyrs from around the world, including King.

Those saints toiled for a dream yet unfulfilled, that "the prophets continue to hold before us," Jefferts Schori said. "It's the same dream that the prophet Martin Luther King held before us -- a world where no one goes hungry, where each one has a decent shelter at night, where all have an equal claim on justice. It is the eternal dream of God's spirit within us, and the vision that Jesus urges on his followers."

"We've confronted that dream this week as we've seen the terror of Haiti, a land shaken by the impersonal forces of an ever-changing globe," she said. "It's also a terror in which human forces play an enormous role. The dream of God is evident in the care of one Haitian for another and in the care of the world's urgent response."

She described how, after the earthquake destroyed most of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti's buildings in and around the nation's capital -- including the bishop's home -- Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin organized a camp to care for thousands of survivors. "They have water and some food and a purpose -- to care for each other and for the suffering around them. The dream of God is becoming real on that soccer field in small and hidden ways."

"At the same time, our hearts are breaking as we see the bodies and hear the stories about not knowing where family members are," she said, noting that the country will take a long time to recover and rebuild. "The damage in Haiti is far worse than it was when an equivalent earthquake hit San Francisco 20 years ago, when only 62 people died. It's worse because the infrastructure in Haiti is so poor and the buildings there so fragile. It is a result of poverty. And that poverty is what the prophet Martin would challenge us about."

Jefferts Schori recounted Haiti's history, as it became Latin America's first independent nation and the first country ever established because of a successful slave rebellion. "If that isn't an Exodus story, I don't know what is," she said. "Yet they have never tasted much milk and honey."

"Martin the prophet would remind us that there are still slaves around us … like the 80 percent of Haitians who live on less than $2 a day," she said. "Martin the prophet would remind us that there is no justice when some live in that kind of poverty. And Martin the prophet would remind us that the people of Haiti are our brothers and sisters."

Earlier, the worship service included a reading from King in which he described humanity as "caught in an inescapable network of mutuality" and recounted how the early church was "not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principals of popular opinion, it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."

Recalling those words, Jefferts Schori said, "Well, my friends, it's time to turn the heat up. Babies are dying out there. God's children, our brothers and sisters, are dying of neglect -- of our neglect … Haiti is also a child of God, teetering on the cusp of life. She needs water, food, solidarity in prayer, work for justice, redevelopment. She needs milk and honey."

She concluded, "None of us will arrive in that land of milk and honey … until and unless we cross the river together."

Taylor-Kamara said he was "happy and excited" that he and other church school youngsters were helping to meet some of that need, collecting supplies to send to Haiti. "When it gets done, we can maybe have a celebration," he said.

And he said he saw a parallel between his initiative and the work of King, explaining: "I'm helping other people that I don't know, and he helped other people that didn't have freedom."

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