Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s series of free, one-hour, online presentations continues on Sunday, January 2 at 4:00 pm Eastern | 1:00 pm Pacific with learning from the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, presented by Dr. Catherine Meeks. We hope to see you there.
Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing (www.centerforracialhealing.org) is a collaborative initiative between the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and The Episcopal Church. It works closely with the Presiding Bishop’s Staff and dioceses to address the wounding caused by racism by creating brave spaces where the truth can be told.
Catherine Meeks, PhD, takes the healing of racism deeper than politics to address the injuries and grievances we bear in our hearts. Dr. Meeks, our presenter, is the Founding Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing as well as the retired Clara Carter Acree Distinguished Professor of Socio-cultural Studies and Sociology from Wesleyan College.
Catherine is an author who has published seven books including her recently co-authored book, “Passionate for Justice, Ida B. Wells- A Prophet for Our Times” which was released in September 2019, and her edited book “Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America” which focuses on racial healing and reconciliation published in 2016. She is a regular contributor to Hospitality which is published monthly by the Open Door Community. She is involved with prison work and faithfully visits a person who was formally on death row. She is committed to working for the abolition of the death penalty, writing and helping to create spaces where transformation and rebirth can occur. All of her work is grounded and supported by her understanding of C.G. Jung, an array of theological/philosophical thinkers, and her long spiritual journey’s engagement with scripture and other sacred texts.
Accounts of St. Philip the Deacon typically begin with its founding in 1911 by a group of African-American Episcopalians of Caribbean Anglican descent. Often unstated is the legacy of racism in Portland, in Oregon, and in the Episcopal Church itself, the context out of which that audacious undertaking arose. Buying land, erecting a building, and expressing its particular call to support the black community was both a challenge and a source of pride for those stalwarts—and a strong response to having been “invited” to leave the Cathedral where most of them were members, but where they would never be allowed to share in leadership.
St. Philip took this mission seriously, though its membership and the reach of its work were hardly limited to people of color. Its current Sanctuary and Parish Hall date from 1945. Its unassuming architecture, manicured lawn, and rose gardens have virtually camouflaged the ongoing community activities housed within it over the years: the founding of the Urban League and NAACP chapters in its parish hall, the Lee Owen Stone Preschool cooperative, church social clubs, seniors’ computer classes, after-school programs, music and dance lessons, shared sanctuary for Ethiopian, Latino, and Native American congregations, the Deacon’s Dining Hall Saturday lunch program, and most recently The People’s Pantry, operated by the Hand Up Project.
In the face of the deaths of so many black and brown people, and the white supremacist legacy of our beloved Episcopal Church, our presiding bishop the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry exhorts us to become the Beloved Community. For many congregations, this means starting by learning through the Sacred Ground curriculum, developed to help our predominately white congregations face systemic racism.
For St. Philip, it is the exploding housing crisis that has driven its current call to action. Members of St. Philip lost their homes in the Vanport Flood, the building of the I-5 freeway and the Coliseum construction, and the proposed expansion of Emmanuel Hospital. Members of our congregation grew up in homes where the deed specified that only whites could own the property their parents bought through white friends. The long history of red-lining and displacement of homes and businesses in N/NE Portland has led to the reality that almost 40% of the unhoused population in Portland are persons of color even though African-Americans make up only 12% of the population.
Several times in the past, the parish felt called to build affordable housing, twice attempting to purchase nearby houses and develop the property, but these plans didn’t succeed. The parish conversation arose again in 2019, and we connected with others who share our commitment to providing stable housing for all Oregonians. The Trustees of the Diocese of Oregon provided a generous 5-year grant to allow for staff and clergy funding to help St. Philip engage the neighborhood and expand its relationships and partnerships.
Throughout the COVID onslaught last year and continuing into the foreseeable future we are moving through the difficult and challenging process of property development, including:
Discerning as a parish who in particular we are called to love and house (because we can’t do it all!);
Partnering with professionals create a plan that is both practical and well-designed;
Development relationships to ensure successful long-term property management and wrap-around services for our hoped-for new and vulnerable neighbors;
Negotiating the labyrinthine world of affordable housing funding applications for a multi-million dollar project.
At the same time, we are using the community-organizing skills and relationships we have gained by our participation in the Leaven Land and Housing Coalition to help us better engage our neighborhood, creating relationships around our common love for this small part of Portland, and meeting the needs of our vulnerable neighbors. Over the next year, we will be asking our neighbors, What do you cherish about this neighborhood? As we hear the hopes and longings of our neighborhood we can then discern how we can come alongside what God is already doing around us.
Far from daunting, these dual conversations on affordable housing and neighborhood engagement are energizing our small parish. Our vision for “The Alcena—An Affordable Living Community” is revealing the interconnectedness of the national church’s three-fold mission of racial reconciliation, creation care, and evangelism. Our project partnerships and engagement with neighbors old and new, black and white and brown, are taking us into exciting new territory.
True to its African American roots and through the power of the Holy Spirit, St. Philip the Deacon is “making a way out of no way” to fulfill our mission, “to be a vital presence in the lives of individuals, families, and the community.”
This post was written by Taylor Stewart, founder of Oregon Remembrance Project. Join the truth telling event and ceremony for the historical marker honoring the life of Alonzo Tucker on June 19.
Hello, my name is Taylor Stewart. After a life changing trip to the American South, I started working with an organization in Montgomery, AL called the Equal Justice Initiative on what’s called the Community Remembrance Project, which aims to work in the communities where the lynchings of African Americans took place to find healing and reconciliation through a sober reflection on history.
The Equal Justice Initiative has documented nearly 6,500 African American victims of lynching between 1865-1950.
Lynching killed thousands of African Americans, imposed racial subordination, forced the exodus of millions from the South, and diminished African Americans in this country’s social, political, and economic life in ways that can still be felt today.
At least one African American was lynched in Oregon. His name was Alonzo Tucker and he was lynched in Coos Bay, OR in 1902 in front of a crowd of 300.
Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says “truth and reconciliation are sequential.” So, in order to get to reconciliation, we must first engage in the requisite truth telling and we have started this truth telling in Coos Bay.
For the last three years I have been working with the Coos History Museum and the City of Coos Bay on a series of acts of remembrance to memorialize Alonzo Tucker. Back on February 29, 2020 we held a soil collection ceremony for Alonzo Tucker where we collected two jars of soil. One that was sent back to a museum in Montgomery and the other that is now on display at the Coos History Museum.
On June 19, 2021 we’ll be installing an Equal Justice Initiative historical marker in Coos Bay. One side will tell the story of lynching in America as a whole and the other side will tell the story of Alonzo Tucker. We would love to have you join us virtually in remembrance on June 19. The historical marker ceremony will be streamed online on the Oregon Remembrance Project’s Facebook: https://fb.me/e/2O6tqLLgh
The Oregon Remembrance Project is one individual but that doesn’t mean this is an individual effort. I invite you to join me in finding justice for the lynching of Alonzo Tucker and other instances of historical injustice in Oregon.
This blog was written by Dr. Melissa Bird from the Engaging Racial Justice Working Group.
This year our diocese has experienced such glorious opening and expansion through our commitment to addressing issues of racism and white supremacy. Those of us who have been part of the Engaging Racial Justice Working Group (formerly the Commission to End Racism) have participated in enriching, graceful, and substantive conversations about race and racism. We have changed our name because the term racial justice goes beyond being anti-racist, it calls for the creation of supports to achieve and sustain racial equity, and we believe that is the work we have been called by the diocese to do.
Recently our group was invited by Dr. Melissa Bird (Southern Paiute) to read The Four Vision Quests of Jesus by Steven Charleston. This book invites us to think of how we are all connected to God, Mother Earth, and our communities. In our conversation we discussed the transcendent experience of engaging in dismantling white supremacy and being organic in the way we are engaging in our work. White supremacy would have us believe that we are disconnected from each other and our collective experience. Steven Charleston reminds us that dissonance helps us develop a deep spiritual connection, change is meant to be uncomfortable. If we are willing to explore connection while releasing assumptions about this work, we allow ourselves to get us closer to our calling as God’s children.
We would like to invite you to reach for the spiritual center of the story and to look at anti-racist work as an opportuntiy for personal transfiguration. Bravery and courage for this work comes from our incredible liturgy. We are all one body, we are all interconnected, and we have access to the transformative and healing power of our gospel.
Our workgroup would like to invite you to open yourself to deep listening and transfiguration. You can begin with vulnerability and storytelling. There is time and more than enough grace to be deliberate and thoughtful in this work. You are being invited to a lifelong process of change, disruption, and dismantling of white supremacy and racism. We welcome you to join us in the temple, flip the tables, and bring people to Jesus’s calling to social justice. Some of the questions we invite you to ask yourselves are, “How do you want to engage in this work?” and “How do we weave this work through liturgy?”
When we pay attention to life, even the smallest details can bring us even closer to the great universal love of God. We hope that you will accept this invitation to engage in your own vision quest and reimagine your way going forward in doing anti-racist work.
In closing we would love to share these words from Steven Charleston, “In the traditional Native spiritual understanding, all of creation is endowed with the spirit of God. The very fact that God imagined something into being means that that object of creation has the mind of God within it. The nature of God, the essence of God, the love of God have touched all things, for nothing exists that is outside of God.” Amen.
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