Bishop Alan M. Gates issued the following message to the diocesan community on June 17, 2022:
Dear People of the Diocese of Massachusetts,
As we head into this early summer weekend, these things are on my heart.
Yet Another Shooting
So now we add Vestavia Hills, Alabama, to our litany of those places where people have been gunned down as they went about the daily activity of their lives. While this one may seem especially close to home given its occurrence in an Episcopal church, the fact is that every one of these tragedies has been close to home, for we too are those in schools, grocery stores, movie theaters and medical clinics.
At our recent diocesan ordination of deacons, I offered these words as part of the sermon:
By now we know the script. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Columbine. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Virginia Tech, ...Fort Hood, ...Newtown, ...Aurora, ...Orlando, ...Buffalo, ...Uvalde." We know the script all too well. And now we know, also, another script, the response of frustration, helplessness, and fury: "I don't want to hear another word about thoughts and prayers!" Frankly, many of us share the sentiment. The failure of our leaders--and our collective failure--to muster the courage for serious gun control in our nation is a scandal and a sin. And yet, as a people of faith, we are dedicated to the importance of compassionate thoughts and faithful prayers.
Catherine Meeks, director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, had a blog this week. It had a startling headline: "Stop Praying." But then the headline continued: "Stop Praying...Until YOU are Willing to Act!!!" This, of course, is right--emotionally, strategically, and theologically. For the person of faith our thoughts, prayers, and actions must be inextricably linked, each one incomplete without the others.
A contemporary hymn writer, Carolyn Winfrey Gillette, has gathered up these scriptural themes, inviting us to sing of these inseparable elements of faith [i]:
If we just talk of thoughts and prayers
And don't live out a faith that dares,
And don't take on the ways of death,
Our thoughts and prayers are fleeting breath.
I am grateful for all those who, like these two Episcopal leaders in Falmouth are finding ways to speak out and show up, putting thoughts and prayers into action, and I invite us all to find our own ways to engage in such manifestations of faith and courage.
On Sunday we mark Juneteenth, now also commemorated as a federal holiday on Monday. For some, this holiday has been observed in close community for a long time. For others of us, this is a new observance.
Juneteenth recollects the day when, on June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to bring to the farthest corner of the Confederacy word of the formal end of the war in April. This was not new news. The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued two-and-a-half years earlier. The Confederacy had surrendered two months before. But the presence of those troops and the accompanying edict established that those earlier events could no longer be disregarded. Ignorance (real or feigned), oblivion, obstructionism, wishful thinking--none of these was to be justification for ignoring the reality of emancipation.
This history continues to point to that which so many of us must renounce individually and together: ignorance (real or feigned), oblivion, obstructionism, or wishful thinking. As Henry Louis Gates Jr. has written: "Of all Emancipation Day observances, Juneteenth falls closest to the summer solstice, ... when the sun, at its zenith, defies the darkness .... By choosing to celebrate the last place in the South that freedom touched, ... we remember the shining promise of emancipation, along with the bloody path America took by delaying it and deferring fulfillment of those simple words in General Granger's original order: that 'This involves absolute equality ... between former masters and slaves.'" [ii]
As one way to mark Juneteenth this weekend, we are invited to a diocesan online observance on Sunday at 3 p.m., sponsored by our diocesan Office of Immigration and Multicultural Ministries. Bishop Gayle Harris and others will reflect on how we remember and honor stories that have changed our perceptions over time. You can register here.
May we join in this prayer, courtesy of the Northern California Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE):
Almighty God, you rescued your people from slavery in Egypt, and throughout the ages you have never failed to hear the cries of the captives. We remember before you our sisters and brothers in Galveston, Texas, who on this day received the glad tidings of their emancipation. Forgive us for the many grave sins that delayed that liberating word. Anoint us with your Spirit to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of your favor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.
One week after Trinity Sunday, we are reminded that even the Holy One cannot be complete without--through the sacred mystery which is the Holy Trinity--being somehow in relationship within the divine self. Our families of origin and our chosen families are profound locations in which we experience that gift of relationship.
This weekend we give thanks for our own fathers and father-figures who, at their best, have been able to manifest God's love. May we pray for all those called to the vocation of fatherhood, and for those in turn who are called to care for aging fathers:
Almighty God, giver of life and love, bless all fathers and their children. Grant them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their lives, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [The Book of Common Prayer, p. 444, adapted]
May this be for you a weekend of solemn reflection, grateful remembrance, and sabbath joy.
Faithfully and fondly,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates
[i] An extensive collection of hymns by the Rev. Ms. Gillette may be found at www.carolynshymns.com/index.html.
[ii] Full reflection on Juneteenth 2020, with complete Henry Louis Gates quote reference, can be found here.