Union of Black Episcopalians examine reconciliation at annual conference

Presiding Bishop says 'reconciliation and freedom go hand in hand'
July 9, 2007

Gathering under the theme of reconciliation, more than 300 Episcopalians attended the 39th annual meeting and conference of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE), held July 2-6 in Houston, Texas.

"Telling Our Story: Hearing God's Call for Reconciliation," drew participants from as far away as London, England to celebrate the lives, contributions, and sacrifices of people of color and women clergy and to discuss reconciliation.

Setting the tone for the conference with his keynote address, Central Pennsylvania's Bishop Nathan Baxter called on attendees to "take leadership in the work of reconciliation."

"Out of our own story and pain we have to work for truth, truth telling, truth honoring and for justice, but we cannot afford to lose the understanding that God's primary call is to community," he said.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at the July 4 reconciliation Eucharist, telling the group that "reconciliation and freedom go hand in hand."

"None of us can live in that kingdom God has promised until every single one of us is valued as beloved of God, not until each one of us has the sacramental evidence of that -- in the outward and visible sign of a society of justice, where all have equal access to the blessings for which we were created, where ancient wounds have been salved, ancient dis-ease healed, and ancient injustice repaired," she said.

Jefferts Schori said that Christians labor for many kinds of reconciliation -- between individuals, within families, between and within nations, between political and even theological factions, and that God's mission "includes the mending of all of those wounds, and the world will not be whole until new flesh has grown in their place."

"Healing begins when we describe the wound by telling our stories," she said.

Reconciliation forum
Welcoming further discussion on reconciliation, Jefferts Schori convened a forum with a panel that consisted of the Rev. Canon Kortright Davis, professor of theology at Howard University's School of Divinity and rector of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.; Wale Omosebi, an 18 year-old youth representative on UBE's board of directors; the Rev. Kim Baker, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Westfield, New York; and Antoinette Daniels, director of learning and leadership for the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF). The Rev. Dr. J. Carleton Hayden, assistant rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., served as an observer and helped summarize the panel's responses, while the Rev. Canon Edward W. Rodman, professor of Pastoral Theology and Urban Ministry at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, served as moderator.

Daniels explained how a contaminated polio vaccine and denial of help from segregated hospitals in Mississippi in the 1950s left her permanently disabled.

"Reconciliation is not a point in time for me," Daniels said. "It's a daily act of reminding people that this is what I need and educating them."

Omosebi, who spoke on behalf of the youth, noted that issues such as racism and questions of sexual orientation are perplexing the church today, and asked that "if God is the God of the oppressed as well as the free, how can we exclude an entire group of people?"

Jefferts Schori shared the challenge she issued at a recent meeting of the Anglican Indigenous Network in Canada, where Bishop Mark MacDonald's appointment as Canada's first indigenous bishop was celebrated.

She told them that while she celebrated the appointment, they should not stop there, and issued the same challenge to UBE.

"My sense is that until we are a 'dappled' people, until we recognize, celebrate and welcome the gifts of everyone — all the different cultures, backgrounds and experiences — celebrate and not fill categories, we will none of us truly be free," she said.

Small group discussions during the forum brought forth questions about racism within the race. Davis pointed out that "diversity does not mean division."

Youthful voices
Young people played an integral role in all aspects of the conference, including leading a special youth Eucharist service and sharing a prayer breakfast with Jefferts Schori.

"Meeting with the Presiding Bishop was great because she gave her perspective on our questions," said Ashton Miller, 16, a youth representative on UBE's board of directors.

Randy Callender, 24, soon to attend the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, preached at the youth Eucharist, saying "before we can come close to God, we have to learn how to come close with one another."

According to Gina Houston, assistant youth advisor of the UBE board of directors, there were approximately 55 young people in attendance.

"Youth ranged in aged from 5-24 years old," she said. "We divided them into more age appropriate groups—5-12 years old and 13-24 years old—and held activities accordingly."

Rupert Codrington-Marshall, 7, from London, England, said UBE "is fun" and that he "enjoys meeting new people although I am a little shy."

Women in the church
A gala banquet recognized the 30th anniversary of women's ordination in the church and honored Bishop Suffragan Bavi Edna 'Nedi' Rivera of Olympia; Bishop Carol Gallagher; Bishop Suffragan Dena Harrison of Texas; retired Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris of Massachusetts; and Bishop Gayle Harris of Massachusetts.

"As a Native woman, it is a great privilege to be honored by other folks who have understood some of the same struggles to be in leadership in a church that doesn't necessarily understand the way we look at the world," said Gallagher. "So it is wonderful to be here and I am humbled to be among the women I am being honored with."

The banquet also provided the opportunity for women across the generations to briefly provide their perspectives on their lives as priests.

Changing of the guard
In his final address as president, the Rev. Canon Nelson Pinder cited the accomplishments of UBE while he was at the helm and expressed thanks for being allowed to serve.

His successor is the Rev. Dr. C. David Williams, dean of Trinity and St. Philip's Cathedral, Newark, New Jersey.