|80 Years of Action,
Celebrated with More Action!
Offered by Dr. Ellen Lindeen, EPF NEC member
During the weekend of November 9 – 11, the Pilgrimage for Racial Reconciliation in Providence and Bristol, Rhode Island, was a powerful, enlightening, and beautiful time for all who attended. Episcopal Peace Fellowship commemorated its 80th anniversary, and its history of prayer, study and action, in the Province of New England, where EPF was born. We were able to participate in many events, activities, and services that fed my spirit as a Christian, as an Episcopalian, and as someone seeking information and direction in racial reconciliation. We all owe Rev. Will Mebane, Vice Chair of EPF and rector at St. Barnabas, Falmouth, MA, enormous gratitude for his hard work and dedication that resulted in a phenomenal three days.
The NEC board members convened on Saturday in Providence, Rhode Island, for our semi-annual board meeting. That evening, we had dinner in Bristol at the DeWolf Tavern, established in 1818 as a rum distillery and featured in the film, Traces of the Trade. On Sunday morning, we attended the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost service at St. Michael’s Church in Bristol, RI. Rev. Canon Michael Horvath graciously hosted two services and the celebratory reception for us. After church, we had another session of board meeting business, and then we set up in St. Michael's Parish Hall for the fundraiser and silent auction that afternoon. At 4:30, we were treated to a gorgeous Evensong service with full choir. The Rt. Rev. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, welcomed the 85+ people in attendance and the Rt. Rev. Dr. Shannon MacVean-Brown, Bishop of Vermont, gave the homily. The lectors were our own Melanie Merkle Atha, Executive Director of EPF and Rev. Robert Davidson, Chair of EPF. The “Celebration of Peace” fundraiser and silent auction that followed was a delight with delicious appetizers, wine and soft drinks, and an Afro-Caribbean jazz duo providing wonderful music. It was a true celebration of peace and justice.
Monday, Armistice Day, was the day of EPF’s founding, and on this November 11, 2019, we commemorated our 80 years of work beginning at the Center for Reconciliation, housed in the historic Cathedral of St. John in Providence, RI, which was consecrated in 1810 (and before that organized in 1722 as the King’s Church). The 60+ attendees from MA, CT, NH, VT, RI, AL, CO, MI, CA, MN, and IL were welcomed by the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island. The Cathedral, formerly the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, opened a museum and reconciliation center in 2018 as the first museum in New England to focus on the history of slavery in New England. The Center is dedicated to engaging people in learning about slavery, the slave trade and its legacies in today’s world. The Center is a brave space for brave conversations about difficult topics.
Our anniversary morning consisted of a virtual walk down Benefit Street with information from two brilliant tour guides whose goal is to educate, equip, and engage visitors in the difficult history of the area by presenting information that challenges the dominant narrative of slavery. We learned the painful truth about the participation and complicity of New England, and specifically Rhode Island, in the trans-Atlantic slave trade from 1636 to 1865. The Cathedral where we sat was built by slaves, with money from the slave trade. Bristol and Newport were huge ports for the slave trade and until 1807, Rhode Island sent the more ships than any other colony or state to capture people to be enslaved.
After a break for a delicious lunch at the Center provided by Province I, a panel presentation followed. The chair of the panel was the Honorable Dr. Byron Rushing, Vice President of the House of Deputies, MA House Representative from 1983-2019, and founder of the Episcopal Urban Caucus. Rushing began the afternoon panel with profound remarks, asking us to consider the word “memory” regarding who we are. Much of what passes for the history that has informed Americans has been made up. The dominant narrative of our past is generally not true. If a person robs others of memory, they control the future. We must face and tell the truth. How will we as Episcopalians get to reconciliation? What ever was the “conciliation” in our country, so that we can return to it?
The panel speakers at the Center included Holly Carter and Caitlin Slodden representing Sacred Ground, a new film-and-reading based dialogue series on race and faith that is part of the church’s continuing commitment to racial reconciliation and a priority set by General Convention; Katie Ernst from the Mission Institute, which engages communities and congregations (primarily white folks) around dismantling racism and building courageous community; Lee Cheek, Founding Member of the Social Justice Commission and currently the co-chair of Beloved Community Commission; Rev. Gail Avery, new canon for Transition and Community Engagement in the Episcopal Church; and Rev. Rowena Kemp and Suzy Burke, Co-Conveners of the Racial Justice, Healing, and Reconciliation Ministry in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. Our time together ended as people needed to catch planes to get back home, but we all left better informed about the truth of the past and ways that the Episcopal Church is moving forward by speaking up and educating our members.
Thanks be to God for this work and the opportunity to learn about it on the 80th anniversary of Episcopal Peace Fellowship.