May 7, 2015
I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10)
As Baltimore experienced protests and violence last week, I was privileged to be part of a significant gathering for leaders of the Anglican Church in North America to address issues of race and mission among African Americans. It was a powerful and moving experience for me.
Last fall, Archbishop Foley Beach had conversations with two young leaders in their 20s—an African American priest and a white campus minister—about our Church’s engagement with the racial tensions in our nation and our strategic vision for church planting in predominantly African American communities.
That led the Archbishop to have discussions at the College of Bishops meeting in January and the plan for last week’s meeting. By God’s providence, it not only took place during the turmoil in Baltimore, but also was held in North Charleston, South Carolina, just three miles from where Walter Scott was shot in the back by a police officer three weeks earlier, a horrific event captured on video.
The meeting involved lay people, priests and bishops—including the Archbishop and five other bishops—both black and white. Those from our diocese were the Rev. Jay Baylor and Carletta Wright, who lead Church of the Apostles in the City (Baltimore, MD), Ron Davis of All Saints’ Church (Woodbridge, VA) and the Rev. David Hanke of Restoration Anglican Church (Arlington, VA).
During our meeting, Jay and Carletta were getting calls and texts from family, church members and friends in Baltimore. We prayed for the city and in particular for Carletta and her husband Mark’s children and grandchildren, who were victims of violence near their homes.
We talked openly about race and racism and the challenges facing our Church in our mission with and among African Americans, and we expressed “a deeper commitment to both multi-ethnic and ethnic-specific expressions of the Church; a change that is critical if we are to remain in step with the Holy Spirit in light of the shifting demographics of North America.”
In our Diocese, all of us in all of our churches need to consider how we can work for racial reconciliation and be more engaged in bringing the Gospel to all peoples in our communities. Any honest assessment of the diversity of our Diocese would show that we have a long way to go. The Cross-Cultural Task Force of our Great Commission Committee is a great resource to help us engage in this strategic work. But the leaders of every one of our churches need to pray and seek the Lord’s direction about specific steps God would have you take.
I would urge you to read the full statement from our meeting, printed below. Share it with the Vestry and mission leaders of your church. Pray, and obey the Holy Spirit as he sends you out to witness, to serve and to heal.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. John A. M. Guernsey