From the SSJE Brothers of Cambridge, Massachussetts
Dear Friends in Christ, It is very possible that you are feeling exhausted and discouraged in the midst of the many crises we are facing now; especially here in the United States. The deadly Covid-19 virus continues to claim thousands of lives, with failed businesses, massive unemployment and school closings following in its wake. Unrest continues in our cities in response to ongoing attacks on people of color. Our deeply ingrained racism is being exposed again and again in every sphere of life: in education, health care, housing, employment, fair treatment under the law, access to food... Wild fires in California and hurricanes in Louisiana remind us of the high cost of environmental destruction and global warming, which we have failed to adequately address. Partisan politics has paralyzed our government and put the upcoming election at risk.
How can we respond creatively and courageously to such immense challenges? When we’re exhausted from the battle, how do we resist the temptation to simply give up and stop caring? What do we, as people of faith, have to offer our neighbors and colleagues in such demanding times? We are called to be people of hope, whose trust in God gives them the resilience to pick themselves up when they’ve fallen or been pushed down, and to continue to answer the call. We must be like sturdy trees, able to stand their ground in the face of violent winds because their roots reach deep into the soil from which comes their food and their strength.
We can find courage to fight on in the examples of those who have gone before us. I’ve been reflecting recently on the words and wisdom of Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983), a Dutch Christian woman who, with her father and sister, helped Jews escape the Nazis during World War II by hiding them in their home. The three were arrested and sent to the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbrück ,where Corrie’s father and sister subsequently died. Corrie survived the terrible ordeal and went on to author The Hiding Place, which recounts the story of her family’s efforts and how she found hope in God while she was imprisoned at the concentration camp. Countless Christians have been inspired by her story. I recall some of her memorable quotes: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still;” “Now I know in my experience that Jesus’ light is stronger than the biggest darkness;” “Love is larger than the walls that shut it in;” and this one, which has spoken to me recently, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
These are uncertain times, surely, and none of us knows – or can ever know – what the future will bring: not only in our lives but in the lives of our children and grandchildren, our country and our world. We face so many challenges, so many unknowns, and there is so much at stake. But we are not the first human beings to face daunting challenges, nor will we be the last. We fight on – for justice, for peace, for the welfare of all people, for the health and safety of all creation – working as if all depended upon us (which it does), while praying as urgently and persistently as if all depended upon God (which it does).
May God bless and keep you in these troubled times, and nourish and strengthen you for the fight.
Bishop José McLoughlin of Western North Carolina as a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Florida, around 1991. Courtesy photo
[Episcopal News Service] When Bishop José McLoughlin of Western North Carolina was young, he had his heart set on a career in law enforcement. Informed by his Roman Catholic upbringing, he wanted to pursue organized crime as a prosecutor, maybe get involved in politics, and “change the world” by working for justice.
“I was really drawn to law enforcement, and then ultimately the priesthood, because of humanity – because of the wonderful, joyful, frustrating, annoying mess that is humanity,” McLoughlin told Episcopal News Service.
A college professor who had previously served as a sheriff encouraged McLoughlin first to “put a face on the people that you would serve” by becoming a police officer, and after a ride-along, he was “hooked.” At the age of 21, he began a 13-year career in law enforcement, first as a deputy sheriff in Orange County, Florida, near where he grew up in the Orlando area, and then in various capacities at the U.S. Department of Justice, striving to bring compassion into difficult situations and make policing more just.
“Man, I couldn’t be an officer right now,” McLoughlin said.
The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart during her days in the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, pictured with Assistant Chief Tilmon B. O’Bryant. Courtesy photo
He and the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, a former captain in Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department, spoke to ENS about their perspectives on policing and race as clergy who previously worked in law enforcement. Fisher-Stewart, who is Black, and McLoughlin, who is Latino, have both participated in “Reimagining Policing in America,” a webinar series from the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing that features panel discussions on the systemic problems in American law enforcement and possible solutions.
The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, right, and the Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., pose for photo under a Black Lives Matter banner in 2016. Photo: Lynette Wilson/Episcopal News Service
Fisher-Stewart has also presented the “To Serve and Protect” webinar for the Union of Black Episcopalians, focusing on the racist origins of American policing and its evolution over time. Fisher-Stewart is the interim rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Washington, where she grew up. A previous church she served, Calvary in Washington, was one of the first Episcopal churches to embrace the Black Lives Matter movement. She has edited “Preaching Black Lives (Matter),” a theological anthology, and has taught criminal justice at the University of Maryland. She also serves as a chaplain to the Takoma Park, Maryland, Police Department and has given similar presentations to police officers.
She starts the webinar by presenting “four guiding principles” that provide the basis for what she is about to say and asks all attendees to “assent” to them – agreeing to at least consider them, even if they do not agree with them:
– The United States is a racist country. – Racism is baked into the DNA of the United States. – American policing is the enforcement arm of a racist society. – Police officers are also victims of a racist society.
“What happens when we say this – people get a little uptight. They get a little offended,” she told the attendees, but stressed that she was referring to institutional racism and not accusing individuals of being racist. “As part of this process, we have to be able to talk about policing and its function without it pointing to us as individuals, because if it points to us as individuals, then we’re not able to hear what we need to hear.”
Although officers may still balk at such statements, Fisher-Stewart, who retired from the force after 20 years in 1992, has the clout to back them up.
“Because of [my] experience, I have more credibility with the officers than a civilian would,” she told ENS.
“I walk a thin line between being a member of the community, a former police officer and the mother of a Black son and aunt to Black nephews and nieces and a critic of American policing.”
When she entered the force at age 20 in 1972, she was well aware that the department had a racist reputation, but the job would help her pay for school. Most officers, she said, sign up with good intentions but many “become infected with the racist underpinnings of policing” and get hooked on power.
“Initially, it’s like an aphrodisiac, having that power, knowing that people will do what you tell them to do, for whatever reason,” she told ENS. “But after a while, you become aware of some things that you really don’t like.”
She was bothered by the number of people being arrested – giving them a record that could change the trajectory of their lives – for things that could be resolved in other ways. And there was the outright racism.
“It was in your face and nobody cared,” she said, giving an example from when she was a rookie and her white training partner said something with a straight face that disturbed her.
The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, second from right, being promoted to a lieutenant in the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. Courtesy photo
“This was a time when you could just stop cars because you were bored,” she said. “He was driving the first four hours and he’s stopping cars. And I’m not paying any attention because you just stop a car because you want something to do. But when it got to be my turn to drive, I went to stop this car. He said, ‘Why are you stopping the car?’ I said, ‘Uh, because that’s what we do.’ And he said, ‘We don’t stop white people.’ And I was like, ‘Do you see who’s sitting here?’”
McLoughlin said that in recent weeks, he has looked back over his time as an officer, replaying memories in light of the current debates over policing in America, but doesn’t remember ever witnessing “what I would call an outright abuse of power.” He was always bothered, though, by officers disparaging and cursing at suspects.
“That always used to just drive me nuts,” he said.
He agrees with Fisher-Stewart that “the vast majority of people who go into law enforcement do it because they feel they have a sense they want to serve.” At the same time, he said, “it’s important to say there are bad cops. There is no doubt about it. There are bad priests. There are bad teachers.”
And like Fisher-Stewart, he is deeply aware of systemic racism in policing.
The Rt. Rev. José A. McLoughlin addresses the congregation during his ordination and consecration as bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina. Photo: Chris Goldman/Diocese of Western North Carolina
“The history of policing is such that, if you look at it, I mean, it was to control Black people,” McLoughlin said. “I mean, let’s just be honest. When you really look at policing in its earliest forms and how it developed, it has that systemic racism running in it. Are all cops bad? No. Are all agencies racist? No. But it is the concept and the approach and the underlying things that got us there. Is it historically racist? Absolutely.”
When he watched the video of George Floyd being killed, he was “beyond nauseated.”
“I was so emotionally angry,” he told ENS. “Not only did it make me sick to see a human being get murdered by a police officer, but it made me so angry to see somebody in a uniform that I used to take such pride in do so much damage to the integrity of so many men and women who risk their lives.”
McLoughlin has been disturbed by the polarization and demonization surrounding debates about policing in America and says “you don’t have to choose one side.”
“We have to recognize murder is murder. Racism is racism. There is systemic racism. Black people are significantly more at risk of getting killed and having violent interactions [with police],” he told ENS. “But we don’t have to sacrifice good people who really are working hard to protect the community and really are absolutely sickened by what they’ve seen. We’ve got to find the balance, and the church has to be the one to bring voices into a room to say, ‘Stop the name-calling, stop the generalization and let’s really work hard on how we’re going to bring solutions.’”
McLoughlin and Fisher-Stewart agree that today’s police are being asked to do too much, but they differ on the effectiveness of reforms and retraining. McLoughlin “support[s] the idea of pulling a lot of functions away from law enforcement” and believes training can be refined and enhanced to redirect police forces toward solving problems in their communities.
“We don’t have to sacrifice good strategies and good solutions to figure out how we help law enforcement,” he said.
“Overall, I’m for abolishing the police as they were created and continue to act,” she told ENS. “Does that mean I want no police? No, it doesn’t.”
Like McLoughlin, Fisher-Stewart sees a common thread running through her desire to improve law enforcement and her vocations as a priest.
“I draw my source from the Gospel of John, 18th chapter, where Jesus has been arrested and he’s brought before the high priest and the high priest is questioning him,” Fisher-Stewart said. “This is the equivalent of his arraignment. And when he does not act, when he does not respond in a way that people think he should, he is actually hit in the face by the temple police. That is the first recorded act of police abuse. And it’s on the body of Christ. And so if we don’t stand up because the people of God are treated negatively, then we’re saying it was OK to treat Jesus like that.”
– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
My siblings in Christ,
May the Holy One’s peace be upon you this most beautiful day.
Over the past few weeks, during my time of prayer, I have been repeating the following: “O most holy one, awaken my heart to your presence.” In these moments of silent prayer, a deepening clarity is unfolding as to our next steps as the Body of Christ in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. We are standing at a threshold that will guide us for at least the next 18 months and perhaps for as long as the next four years; it is a time of prayer and preparation.
Barring a dramatic rise in cases, our churches have the blessing to begin Phase III on Sunday, September 6. For full details, please see the announcement at the end of this letter.
I doubt after these six months of prayer, contemplation, and inspiration, few will be content with “we have always done things this way.” As disciples, we must sacredly disturb the familiar and mundane. Let us not be content with the way things always were. We must discover new seeds of hope and faith to prepare for planting. This is the hard work of personal and church transformation - the revolution of the heart. Now is the time to prepare the fields so that our diocese can plant the seeds of hope, belonging, human equality, sacred inclusion, and love. A place where we live the reality that all people are our siblings, without any worldly definition of difference; a human family with the same divine DNA. These seeds will become the roots of a new church and as they grow, will transform our diocese. Let us not worry about the future abundance, let us focus on the task that lies in front of us, let us go to work and prepare the field. As the prophet Jeremiah said “trust in the Lord, it will bear fruit.”
I cannot help but believe that during this time, many of us have prayed the words “Jesus, awaken our hearts”. I also sense that many others have attempted to articulate the exact same words, but have forgotten or do not know how to vocalize them. I am speaking of those who have left the faith, were never formed in a faith tradition, or are now looking for a greater sense of meaning in their lives and a safe, inspiring, hopeful faith to find the Holy One.
The Holy One has been working and we must be open to respond for this season is a time of prayer and preparation. Our merciful and compassionate Creator is blessing us with a gift few have been given; a sacred opportunity to deepen our faith and proclaim the Good News as it was first proclaimed by Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity to awaken our faith and the faith of those around us, much like a glorious sunrise announcing the beginning of a new day.
Reach out boldly to grasp the hem of Christ. For when we do we will discover that for the past six months, the Holy Spirit has been showering our lives and church with inspiration. In April, I asked all our vestries to meet and plan for a time of COVID, and all our churches responded with discernment, creativity, and inspiration. I am asking that vestries and churches meet as we prepare for the next 6-9 months phase of our journey. I pray that each church ponders the three essential questions: What will we encounter when we return? What will those seeking find when they enter our sacred places for the first time? Where is Christ leading us?
The answers will guide us as we go forward. We have at least another 24 months ahead of us. We cannot become weak nor weary. Our Creator made us out of dirt, and we must be willing to get dirty as we labor in the field. Let us do this work of prayer and preparation never forgetting that we are all one based in one love. We are surrounded by miracles and let us trust and serve. We are not only building our church, but also making our sacred connections to one another, strengthening our hearts, and, more importantly, seeking the Holy One with all our being. Therefore, we shall not fear, we are resilient and we have hope. We are all connected as children of Abba and we need one another. The Holy One holds us in those loving and divine hands and is guiding our next steps as beloved Children. Have hope, stay strong, love one another, go out with the knowing that Jesus Christ is with us always.
The blessing of the Holy One, and I leave you in Abba’s tender care,
Guidance for Phase III
On Sunday, September 6, churches may begin using our Phase III protocols. At their discretion, churches may instead continue to function under Phase II until such time as they feel called and prepared to expand their activities. If your church decides to move into Phase III, the clergy and vestry are still required to inform the Bishop. They do not need to submit a detailed plan unless one was not previously sent. They simply need to declare their intent and list what changes they will be making from your Phase II practices. They should also copy Canon Wamsley (email@example.com) and Canon Berlenbach (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Although our region continues to make progress, the safest option is still not to gather in- person. For those churches that are gathering, I encourage you to consider meeting outdoors for worship and other activities. The increased ventilation helps to significantly mitigate the risk. We will continue to study the science as it emerges and, as appropriate, continue to make updates to our protocols.
Finally, I have received many questions about singing. We are currently reviewing recent studies on the possible expansion of choral singing. I will be making a determination and announcement once we have sufficient input and information.
During this month, the Bishop’s Sunday service will include sermons from clergy in the diocese and more music from our churches. See schedule below and watch at 9 a.m. on the Diocesan One Love platform, YouTube or Facebookpage.
8/16: Guest preacher the Rev. Joshua Caler, Christ Church, Pottstown. Music provided by St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Whitemarsh.
8/23: Guest preacher the Rev. Ernie Galaz, Christ Church, Media. Music provided by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Germantown.
8/30: Guest preacher the Rev. Jessie Thompson, St. James, Prospect Park/St. John the Evangelist, Essington. Music provided by Free Church of St. John and Cristo y San Ambrosio.
9/6: Guest preacher the Rev. Sam K. Ndungu, Saint Peter’s, Phoenixville. Music TBD.
Collect for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.