Happy New Year, and Merry Christmas, from EPF’s Executive Director!
At the dawn of this brand new year, I am looking out from my very familiar desk through a very familiar window, knowing that soon, all of this familiar will be left behind. It seems odd to be starting a new adventure from my same-old, same-old spot, but it is comforting, nevertheless. Nearly thirty years of law practice is almost wound down, and my law partners have graciously agreed to let me have this space to launch into my new work for the near term. So, I write this first blog from the safety of my ivory tower.
What I see through the mist out my office window is a giant wooden black box around the base of a Confederate memorial which sits in Linn Park, downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Former Birmingham Mayor William Bell had the twenty foot obstruction (ply-wooden drape) erected around the memorial in challenge to Alabama’s Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, which was passed to preserve all monuments 40 years or older from relocation, removal, alteration, renaming or “other disturbance.” For context, this law was passed when confederate memorials began being dismantled, destroyed and moved into museums following the racially charged events of that summer in Charleston. Of course, there is a legal challenge to the presence of the box making its way through the courts, but I mention this here for you to get some idea of what the world looks like from my perspective. A peace ambassador from Birmingham, Alabama, predictably, has seen a lot that might inform her world view.
Today’s posting is to share my best intentions for what my work as your ED will look like in this “Year of Action” for EPF’s 80th year.
Immediate plans: I have spent much of this week with the very capable Shannon Berndt (EPF Member Services Coordinator) here at my law offices in getting trained on the administrative chores of the ED job. Shannon has graciously agreed to be available to me on an ongoing and virtual way for a few more weeks while I get the hang of things. Fr. Bob Davidson, who has been doing the work of the Executive Director since Rev. Allison Sandlin Liles left to accept her call to parish ministry, joined us this week with the details of the expectations of the NEC for the remainder of my duties. Following this orientation, after a send-off tomorrow from my home parish, St. Andrew’s-Birmingham — which will include a house blessing for the Leisure Travel Van that my husband, Steven, and I will be living in and working from as we travel the country — we will start driving west. Pray for our safe travels, please, and watch social media for a chance to meet us when we are in your neighborhood.
Ongoing plans: I’ll begin to blog regularly, and plot a course across the county for visiting with congregations and making meaningful connections. I’ll be listening closely to find out what resources our members and chapters need from us. I will appear where the NEC directs, including being in Chicago in March for a Palestine Israel Network retreat, in Colorado in April from the Columbine commemoration, in Arkansas this summer for an abolition of the death penalty event, in Palestine this October, and then in New England in the fall for our 80th anniversary celebration, among much else. I’m excited about all of these activities, and can’t wait to start meeting our members and making new connections. If you would like to make an opportunity to spend some time with me while I am near your hometown or parish, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a personal note, I’ll be in Nashville in early May for my son’s graduation from Vanderbilt, and will make time for visiting in the middle Tennessee area while I am there. I’ll also be writing about some of the events unique to Birmingham, including the recent Thanksgiving day shooting of E. J. Bradford by Hoover police, and the aftermath and demonstrations following that tragedy, including renewed efforts at nonviolence and direct action training that I have participated in. My hometown almost always has something provocative happening relevant to my work!
After I interviewed for this position back in November, I was given a copy of the history of EPF: “The Voice of Conscience: A Loud and Unusual Noise? The Episcopal Peace Fellowship 1939-1989” by Nathaniel W. Pierce and Paul L. Ward. I was stopped in my tracks when I read this paragraph, relating to the calling of the inaugural executive director of EPF in 1965:
“But first, in the EPF Newsletter for later Trinity 1965, Sayre appealed to members for help in finding a capable person to travel, organize EPF cells and interpret across the country the relevance of the Christian Gospel in terms of nonviolence and reconciliation… He would have to … have enough sense of organization to follow through on hopeful openings and not waste time repeatedly knocking on doors that have been shut and barred against him… In militarized America, peacemaking is a ‘mission field’ and the EPF secretary will have to have the missionary’s spirit of dedication, zeal and patience.”
The Voice of Conscience, page 30.
Remarkable! Without knowing this particular piece of EPF’s history, I had pitched myself as a possible candidate for Executive Director by telling the NEC that it would be my intention to travel around the country, visiting with parishes and youth groups, and appearing at diocesan events, recruiting new members and re-establishing ties between EPF and her longstanding peace disciples and allies. I explained that in order to be effective doing these things, I would need the NEC’s help identifying “our tribe,” meaning finding the persons and places within the ECUSA where our message was likely to resonate. My plan would be to develop relationships, then empower our “boots on the ground” witnesses with the resources they need to “wage peace” during these most divisive times in our country, and then help create resources as needs manifest themselves and new issues arise. Who knew that I was not creating a new vision of the ED role — rather returning us to our well-established roots — with my imagination of what needed to be done. I think I can fairly be described as a missionary for peace.
Until next time, power to the peaceful!