VIDEO: On policing, reconciliation, black lives and the church’s role

July 28, 2016

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart spent 20 years working as a police officer for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. She joined the department in 1972, four years after riots destroyed parts of the city following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

At the time African-Americans made of 70 percent of the people living in the nation’s capital; at the same time, the police department was overwhelmingly white. Fisher-Stewart’s decision to join the police force baffled friends and family. The department had a bad reputation, she said, and “my friends weren’t happy because some of them had had negative interactions with police here in D.C.”

But Fisher-Stewart needed money to further her education and at the time the department offered a retirement package at 20 years of service. Twenty years to the day, she retired and went to work as a law enforcement consultant, including as a community policing advisor. Some years later, the mother of one son, she enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary.

As a deacon serving Calvary Episcopal Church, a historically black congregation on the city’s northeast side, Fisher-Stewart founded the Center for the Study of Faith and Justice at Calvary with the help of from the Episcopal Evangelism Society grant. Now as an assistant rector, she serves along the Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell, the church’s first white rector, together they work to foster conversations and build community in their neighborhood.

The Center for the Study of Faith and Justice hosts forums about race, social justice, inequality, policing among others, creating a space for dialogue and action. Through the center, Calvary is partnering with other churches and nonprofit organizations to address issues like unemployment and support for ex-offenders re-entering society.

In the past, Fisher-Stewart spoke on gun ownership at a Bishops United Against Gun Violence ( march in Salt Lake City during the 2015 Episcopal Church General Convention. Last fall she helped facilitate a young adult pilgrimage to Ferguson, Missouri, to study racism, injustice and reconciliation.

Fisher-Stewart is in a unique position to comment about policing in America.

“I am a black person who has been stopped by the police, I am the mother of a black son who has been stopped by the police, I was a police officer who tried to do the best I could do as a police officer knowing there were some times that I did things that were not right. And then I was a police officer who saw and faced discrimination in my own department,” she said.

“Then I put on the collar … and I have to ask, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ ‘Where is God calling us to be?’ ‘And what is God calling us to do?’” said Fisher-Stewart. “And so that is my prayer, that is my struggle, knowing that to change anything in society you have to take a risk, which means you just might lose something, but then you step out on faith knowing that if we lose something, something else will be gained. So that is my prayer, that I am able to take the risk that God is calling me to take to make a change so that we can all see a little bit more of the kingdom of God.”

– Lynette Wilson is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service.