Thursday, October 09, 2008

Reflections on the service of repentence at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church

from the VTS Anglican Communion Commentary

On Saturday, October 4 a number of us from VTS attended a Service of Repentance at historic St. Thomas Church in Philadelphia. The service was part of a solemn two-day observance which constituted a public apology for the Episcopal Church’s involvement in the institution of transatlantic slavery. The service was mandated by the 2006 General Convention resolution A123 which declared that slavery was, is and will always be a sin. The resolution asked the Presiding Bishop to call for a “Day of Repentance and Reconciliation.” The Rev. C. David Williams, president of the Union of Black Episcopalians, said that the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s call for a “Day of Repentance” was “extraordinary.”

In her sermon the Presiding Bishop seemed to let no one off the hook. We heard of the sources of J.P. Morgan’s wealth, even as he initiated the Church Pension Fund. A farm dependent on slaves is part of the early history of Trinity Church in the City of New York. The Presiding Bishop told those gathered that slave labor was utilized in the building of Virginia Theological Seminary. Our church, North and South, benefited from the institution of transatlantic slavery, and there is no shortage of guilt from the top down. The stains of slavery run so deep that a “Day of Repentance and Reconciliation” calls for more days, long days of conversation, repentance and reconciliation. Virginia Theological Seminary will spend the rest of its days dealing with its own stains and involvement in the institution of transatlantic slavery.

In writing resolution 123, John Vanderstar, Executive Council member, said: “I strongly believe that the church needs to confront its past and change its future.” As I listened to the Presiding Bishop’s sermon, I thought of our church and the Anglican Communion and the need we have to “confront” the past and to “change” the future. Our church always needs days of repentance. What are we doing today that will require an apology from those who come after us in the future?

- Barney Hawkins

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