This week we had inspiring visits with Peace Partner Parishes St. Michael’s in Little Rock, AR and Calvary in Memphis, TN en route to our son, Tate’s, graduation from Vanderbilt in Nashville. A lot of joy and contagious commitment to service was in our path!
Steven and I enjoyed lunch at the Clinton Presidential Center and Park with Caroline Stevenson and Rev. Lisa Hlass of St. Michael’s – Little Rock last Saturday. St. Michael’s is a peace partner of longstanding, with Rev. Lisa Hlass having served as convener of the Arkansas chapter of EPF and as a member of the National Executive Committee. Caroline Stevenson is last year’s winner of the EPF John Nevin Sayre award given at General Convention for (among her other social justice activities) her work in support of abolition of the death penalty in Arkansas. She organizes Arkansas Peace Week each year (https://arkansaspeaceweek.com) and is largely responsible for making the natural state of Arkansas one of peace and justice.
St. Michael’s motto is "vanquishing the modern day dragons of poverty, disease and intolerance," a social justice call to service if ever there was one. St. Michael’s is committed to environmental justice, with a large array of solar panels on the roof of their parish house which supplies 25% of the parish’s energy needs. One of their parishioners, Eve Jorgenson, is recognized for her work with Mom’s Demand Action for Gun Sense for her effective advocacy against gun violence. Eve has grown the grass roots organization’s membership and is responsible for significant changes in Arkansas gun laws.
Steven and I enjoyed an opportunity to worship with St. Michael’s and to share in their generous hospitality at their Sunday brunch between services. We are so grateful for their time and sharing with us, and we look forward to spending more time learning from these remarkable servants the next time we are in Arkansas.
Altar and window overlooking dogwoods and peaceful columbarium at St. Michael’s – Little Rock, AR. This parish is certainly at home in the world, doing the work we are called to do.
On Monday, I was able to stop in to see Rev. Scott Walters at Calvary- Memphis, our newest peace partner parish. Theirs is a remarkable story of witness in the middle of downtown Memphis, one of America’s poorest urban centers.
From Calvary’s 2018 Year in Review:
"The long struggle to achieve justice, freedom, and peace includes confronting difficult aspects of our past.
"At noon on April 4, 2018, Calvary Episcopal Church held a service of “Remembrance and Reconciliation,” in the church, after which Calvary, Rhodes College, and the National Park Service unveiled a historic marker
at the site of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s antebellum slave mart. These events were intended to remember the names of those who were sold at the site, to respect the dignity of their humanity, and to facilitate the process of reconciliation and healing in our community and our country.
"Between 1854 and 1860, slave traders bought and sold thousands of enslaved people at 87 Adams Street, between Second and Third, just east of an alley behind Calvary Episcopal Church.
"Acknowledging the injustice and oppression that occurred on property now owned by the church helps to fulfill both our civic and religious obligations. It is a way of helping to bring about the “more perfect Union” described by the American founders and the “beloved community” envisioned by
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Most important, it is a tiny step toward fulfilling our duty as Christians to help bring about the Kingdom of God.
"In 1968, Dr. King came to Memphis to show solidarity with striking sanitation workers, who held signs that said, “I am a Man.” Fifty years later, we stand with the sanitation workers, the enslaved sold behind Calvary Church, and the forgotten men and women in every generation who have aspired to claim their humanity as children of God."
Here’s a link to the video about the service for the historical marker dedication and service of remembrance and reconciliation at Calvary:
For the longest, only this marker stood on the street announcing the site of Calvary as the childhood home of Nathan Bedford Forrest. "His business enterprises made him wealthy," indeed.
Telling the rest of the truth of the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s "business activities" on the site of Calvary Episcopal Church, these two markers placed by Calvary, Rhodes, and the National Park Service were dedicated last year, throwing light on the evil of his slave trade.
On The Row
Stories from Arkansas’ Death Row
The Prison Story Project will be touring a staged reading of On The Row, stories from Arkansas’ death row this summer to Episcopal churches in four states.
Founded in 2012 as a ministry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas by storyteller Kathy McGregor, the Prison Story Project benefits incarcerated women and men. Inmates explore their truths through poetry, creative writing, literature, songwriting, and visual art.
Their work is then curated into a staged reading performed by actors. The goal of the Prison Story Project is to enable those whose voices have been locked away to tell their stories, allowing communities to witness the humanity and redemption of the incarcerated through their own words.
From May – October 2016, the project was given unprecedented access to the men on Arkansas’ death row. Eleven of the thirty-four men on the row at that time volunteered to participate. The stories and poems the death row inmates wrote were guided by McGregor and creative writing director, Matt Henriksen, and then edited into a script by theatre director, Troy Schremmer. Their work was presented back to them on October 8, 2016 by professional actors in a cramped aisle on death row between individual cages that held each man.
The team didn’t know how they would react to a presentation of their writing. When the performance started, everyone fell to silence and listened deeply. As one of the men wrote in a thank you letter to McGregor afterwards, “We were all transformed by the writing we heard that day. The writing, they said, culminated in something that’s bigger than all of us.” “We are the broken ones” another said, “that with your help were patched up to shine like new.” please note: we are not allowed to use names of living death row inmates.
“The men we served on Arkansas’ death row didn’t dwell on their pasts or blame others for their crimes,” Henriksen said afterwards. “Some of them had found an immense peace that eludes many of us in the free world, and they wanted to share it purely out of gratitude for having found it. McGregor added, “By facing their crimes, enduring their sentences, and accepting their impending deaths, they each found ways to survive, seek self-forgiveness, experience God’s redemption, and retain their humanity.”
Four of the men that participated in the project were on the list of eight to be executed just after Easter 2017. Don Davis and Stacey Johnson received last minute stays of execution. Jack Jones was executed on April 24 at 7:06pm, pronounced dead at 7:20pm. Minister Kenneth Williams was executed on April 27 at 10:52pm, pronounced dead at 11:05pm. Kenneth was proud to know that while he was on death watch the night before his execution, the Prison Story Project was holding a community poetry reading of his work at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville (video on the website). He also requested that Matt and Kathy read some of his poetry at his funeral in Pine Bluff.
The Prison Story Project has toured On The Row to audiences in Northwest Arkansas and college campuses across the country since 2016. The project has recently received grants from Mid-America Arts Alliance; The Whiting Foundation for the Humanities (through the University of Arkansas); and Episcopal Evangelism Society, with additional support from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Fayetteville.
With this generous funding the Prison Story Project has toured several high schools and juvenile detention centers in Arkansas this year with an abridged version of the script appropriate for students.
The funding will also allow the Prison Story Project to tour to high schools in six additional counties in Arkansas in the fall of 2019 and will allow the group to tour On The Row to Episcopal Churches in four states this summer:
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, MO: Thursday, June 13 at 7:30pm
St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, KS: Friday, June 14 at 7:30pm
Christ Church Episcopal, Tulsa, OK: Saturday, June 15 at 7:30pm
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Dallas, TX, Sunday, June 16 at 2:00pm
For more information, please visit www.prisonstoryproject.com or contact:
Kathy McGregor, Project Director, at prisonstoryproject, 479-871-4875
Kathy McGregor is a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas where she is a second year student in the Iona Arkansas Initiative, on the diaconate track. She is the project director for The Prison Story Project.
St. Augustine’s Tiny House Project
Rob Burgess, EPF treasurer and leader in Western Michigan at St. Augustine’s, Benton Harbor, MI, let us know about a youth project in his church, partnering with St. Andrew’s University and others to create tiny houses as transitional housing for the homeless. Read more:
All Saint’s – Pasadena, CA
This weekend, a group of us traveled 3+ hours north from LA to participate in the 50th annual pilgrimage to the Manzanar internment camp located on the Eastern slopes of the Sierra mountains.
For those not familiar with the history, Manzanar is 1 of 10 internment camps opened by our government in early 1942 to isolate and secure Japanese Americans living in western United States after the attack at Pearl Harbor.
Most were American citizens, but they were given 2 weeks or less to reduce their personal belongings to what could fit into a suitcase. Bank accounts were frozen. Homes were sold for pennies on the dollar. Furniture was left on the sidewalk. Jobs were lost and businesses that were open one day were closed the next.
What awaited the 10,000+ Manzanar detainees were hastily constructed barracks made of plywood and tar paper the camp surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers facing in. Blazing hot in summer, freezing cold in winter and unable in any season to keep out the blowing dust. Mess halls replaced family dining rooms. There were group showers and multi-toilet privies without privacy dividers.
And when the war came to an end 3-1/2 years later, they were sent back to a place that was no longer home, to start over in the face of racial hatred, with little more than $25 and a bus ticket.
The Japanese American community has largely recovered from the events of 75 years ago. But many have retained a sensitivity to racism, so that, even as we were commemorating their own survival, they found room to include members of the local Paiute/Shoshone people who inhabited the land long before the Spanish or Americans colonized California, and whose ancestral burial grounds are threatened by a solar energy farm.
Also present, every year since 9/11, were members of the LA Muslim community who have found support from the Japanese Americans in their own fight against Islamophobia, immigration limitations and travel bans.
Many of us were also painfully aware, even as we renewed our vows to oppose racial profiling or future internment camps, that just a few hours down Hwy 395 from where we stood, Central American and other melanin-richer refugees are being held in the Adelanto Detention Center. a privately-run prison; and that children are separated from their asylum-seeking parents with little hope of rapid reunification. Perhaps we should be holding our commemoration there instead?
And finally, as we tried to keep hydrated in the high desert heat, I contemplated the intense irony of drinking bottled water whose source was in the snow-covered peaks above me. That water is still being sent to quench the thirsty people and lawns of LA, in quantities too large not to harm the economy and ecology of the Owens Valley. So I breathe a prayer of repentance and pour some of the water from my bottle back to the earth, returning it to its home. God, have mercy.
Melanie’s upcoming schedule:
Looking forward, EPF will be in:
May 14: St. Ann’s, Nashville, TN
May 16: St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, TN
June 19: Juneteenth event with Fellowship of Reconciliation, location TBD
June 27-29: Washington, DC "Love God, Love Neighbor: Advocacy in Action"
July 12-13: Big Provincial Gathering, Province V, Kalamazoo, MI
August 8: St. Andrew’s, Birmingham, AL
August 9-10: Commemoration of Jonathan Daniels and Martyrs of Alabama
Visit to Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and
Justice, Montgomery and Hayneville, AL
Sept. 4: Bp. Paul Jones feast day, location TBD
Oct 13-24 Palestine
Nov. 11: EPF 80th Anniversary, Providence, RI
Nov. 14-16: Borderland Ministry Summit, St. Stephen’s, Tucson, AZ
Dec. 22: National Day of Reparations (FOR) TBD
Are you near any of our planned stops and want to visit? Just shout! epfactnow
Until next time,
power to the peaceful!
Shore of the peaceful Illinois River, Gore Landing, OK
Join us at the Province V Big Provincial Gathering in July!
Early bird registration ends TODAY!
We’d love to see you at our evening reception on Friday, July 12!
How can we support EPF while Melanie is on the road?