Table-talk About Race

by | May 12, 2015

A month ago, I sat across the kitchen table from my 84-year-old father, the evening news humming in the background, and asked him point blank, “Daddy, have you known a time since the 1960’s when race has been so central to our daily conversations?” He looked at me, quizzically, then knowingly responded, “No. Not since the 1960’s can I remember race being such a central topic of our national dialogue.” Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Antonio Zambrano-Montes, Walter Scott, and most recently, Freddie Gray have catapulted race and race relations to discussions at dinner tables, boardroom tables, defense and prosecutor’s tables, and yes, our altar tables.

At our Diocesan Council meeting on April 14, around conference tables, members asked me what the Diocese of Washington is doing to address race and race relations. We discussed the resolution presented and adopted at our annual Diocesan Convention last January, which addressed the disproportionate incarceration of people of color and its lasting effects. We reported on the Absalom Jones service, held April 12, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, College Park, where the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church was remembered in a rousing and challenging sermon by Bishop Nathan Baxter, former Dean of the Washington National Cathedral. In his sermon, Bishop Baxter quoted civil rights icon Ella Baker who said, “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son—we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”

Those of us who attended the service could not rest until the Diocese of Washington brought the discussion of race to tables in churches around the diocese. At that Diocesan Council meeting, we had a passionate conversation about reclaiming the original intent of Mother’s Day– mothers praying for peace for their children. Council decided that we in the Diocese of Washington would declare Mother’s Day, May 10, 2015, a special day of prayer and witness for all mothers, but especially mothers of color who worry after and grieve for their children who face real violence, discrimination, and oppression because of the color of their skin and/or their ethnicity. The Race and Social Justice Advisory Committee of the Diocese drafted a collect and litany that could be used by churches at Mother’s Day services, and provided suggested books and other resources for race and social justice discussions within diocesan parishes and schools. Bishop Mariannannounced the All Mother’s Children initiative, inviting us to diocesan-wide prayer and witness “on behalf of mothers who live with the daily fear of losing their children to violence, and for the children themselves.”

Over 40 parishes participated, sparking discussions throughout the diocese, including sermons from mothers of color whose children have been the victims of violence, including a son gunned down abroad after deportation. We cannot rest until race, social justice and equality is our table-talk, prayer and action throughout the Diocese of Washington.

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