Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Dear Parish Family,
This past month has reminded us yet again of the divide between black and white America. The four-hundred-year history of slavery, prejudice, and systemic discrimination against Black Americans is a difficult legacy. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others are painful examples of that legacy and the many ways we have failed to live up to our nation’s founding creed—to show through our words and deeds our recognition that each of us is created equal and in God’s image.
The Apostle Paul preached boldly about unity and diversity among the Body of Christ, writing in I Corinthians 12:24-26:
God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
So in this moment, we suffer when we confront the real suffering of our Black brothers and sisters and must affirm that Black lives matter. This simple, clear expression of the value of persons of color flows directly from Christ’s command that we love one another as ourselves. And the marginalized and oppressed in our world need to know that we hear them and that they matter to us. When we affirm in our communications and discussions that “Black lives matter”, know that we do so to express the self-evident and unquestionable command of our faith, not to endorse any political group or its agenda.
Of course, we at St. James’s are not just talkers and hearers—we are Doers. And we have done much to serve those in need in our community. For example:
- Our Children’s Center has dedicated itself to serving vulnerable and precious lives in our City;
- For years, we have embraced our CARITAS guests by opening our doors to provide hospitality, and we continue to support the organization financially to help those struggling with homelessness and addiction;
- Through our support of the Area Congregations Together in Service (ACTS) Ministry, we provide support for individuals and families in financial crisis; and
- We raise money for the Peter Paul Development Center through the Giving Tree at Christmas.
We also have sustained important work toward reconciliation that has changed hearts. Our annual celebration of the life and works of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is itself an affirmation of our commitment to racial justice and a tantalizing glimpse of what can be. And weeks ago, we formed the Racial Justice and Reconciliation (RJR) Ministry to plan a comprehensive adult formation program addressing the history of racism in Richmond and how various practices, systems, and policies have enabled discrimination and inequality to stain the fabric of our daily lives.
Still, as Bishop Curry has admonished, “the Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon.” So as we take stock of our work in this area, we confront difficult questions: Why is it that in Richmond our work for economically disadvantaged people supports mostly people of color? Why is our MLK service the only regular service where our pews reflect the diversity of our City? And why is it that we still have so far to go?
There are no easy answers to these questions. But we are committed to make St. James’s Episcopal Church a safe place for us to confront them together, to seek God’s guidance and healing presence, and to be active Doers of God’s word seeking transformative solutions to the evil and sin of racism.
You have already begun this important work. In response to the demonstrations that brought racial inequality back into the collective consciousness, parishioners have reached out to ask how they could help. We directed them to the RJR ministry to channel their constructive and holy energy. We fully support these efforts, and we call each of you to support this ministry to expand our efforts to provide opportunities for education, programs, and reconciliation. Each and every voice in our community is essential as we examine our past and look ahead to a future filled with hope and promise. If you wish to be involved in with this group or catch up on their initiatives, you can find details here.
Jesus, our Savior, was devoted to unifying his followers and bringing reconciliation to the lives of those caught in the grip of sin and alienation from each other. We are called to devote ourselves to this same ministry of love and reconciliation as we do our best to follow Him.
This work is hard. Sometimes we will stumble. The forces of evil and division will work to distract us. But we remain confident that if we pick up the cross to follow Christ, he will always be with us and remind us to be graceful with one another as God has been graceful with us.
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to him in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever.
Blessings in Christ,
The Clergy & Vestry of St. James’s Episcopal Church
The Reverend Dr. John McCard, Rector
Robert. C. T. Reed, Senior Warden
The Reverend Hilary Streever, Senior Associate Rector
Sherwood Bowditch, Junior Warden
Harry Warner Jr.
Annie P. Witthoefft