Pilgrims Return from Challenging Trip

The 12 pilgrims from the Diocese of Washington who travelled to Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, the Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist who was shot to death by a white “special deputy” in Haynesville, Alabama, while shielding his young black colleague, Ruby Sales, have been home for almost two weeks now.

While they were gone, Sales preached and spoke at a forum at St. Alban’s Church. Since their return, the Rev. Paula Clark, canon for clergy development and multicultural ministries, has written an essay about their experiences; Washington National Cathedral has continued work on a carving of Daniels on its human rights porch and fleeting impressions have begun to coalesce into settled opinions, leaving some of the pilgrims with a deep sense of unease and a desire to re-energize the work of racial reconciliation in the Diocese of Washington.

“What I was struck by was the enduring vigor of racism in Alabama,” says Maurice White, a retired lawyer and member of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church. “I’ve been all over the south and for some reason I just felt more of it in Alabama. It wasn’t anything overt. People were pleasant in the street. …  There was an undercurrent and I know it’s not just me because I had a chance to talk with other African Americans on the trip.”

White, a former senior executive in the Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts, noted that very few people in the town of Haynesville took part in the commemoration, and that the store in front of which Daniels was killed had been torn down just last year, despite the impending anniversary.

“There was a sense that this has all been swept under the rug,” White says. “And that is scary because if we don’t learn from the past we repeat it.”

Enid LaGesse, a retired professor of African-American and multicultural studies who attends the Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring, agreed. “I bring home even more passion about doing anti-racism work because although I am old enough to have seen many of the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, they are not readily apparent in the places we visited. There are still some people who are upset now as they were 50 years ago. It’s almost as if people long for the good old days.”

The pilgrims’ most difficult experience came when they visited a Stuckey’s in Hope Hull, Alabama, selling t-shirts emblazoned with the confederate flag, and the motto: “If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson.” As Clark wrote in her essay: To my dismay, the Stuckey’s cashier, flanked with actual Confederate battle flags on the counter, glared and nodded at me. In that moment, I knew that I and all the pilgrims of African descent were not welcome. So, the whole group, all 40+ pilgrims, about-faced and kept our money in our pockets.”

There were moments of great inspiration on the trip, including Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry’s sermon, delivered in the courthouse where Daniels’ murderer was acquitted of manslaughter, and remarks by Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, delivered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Montgomery. White was surprised by the emotional impact of walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where law enforcement officers beat marches on Bloody Sunday; the bridge was smaller than he thought it would be. Visiting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s former office in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, LaGesse noticed that he kept an Underwood typewriter. “And I said ‘I learned how to type on one of these!’ That for me was really moving.”

Yet both White and LaGesse came home feeling that the work of racial reconciliation was far from complete. “We can shake hands. We can walk across bridges together but when it comes to hiring or moving to bigger houses or having trust funds, it’s a different story,” White says.

“I think those of us who were on the pilgrimages have become more fired up and more resolute,” Clark says. “In terms of the work we do within the diocese, we talked in terms of just sensitizing folks to what our history of race is in this country— the facts and not the mythology—and what institutionalized and systemic issues still remain. We are talking about really going all out within the diocese to do that within individual parishes.”

She noted that St. Patrick’s, whose rector, the Rev. Kurt Gerhard was among the pilgrims, conducted a five-session series on racism that included viewing the film “I’m Not a Racist … Am I?”  and developed suggestions and recommendations for further action. Ascension in Silver Spring, meanwhile, had sponsored book studies on “The Warmth of Other Suns”, Isabel Wilkerson’sPulitzer Prize winning book on the Great Migration, and “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander’sscorching indictment of the mass incarceration of black men in the United States.

“I think we need a variety of entry points to these issues,” LaGesse says. “If the arts are your entry point and you need to learn about music on these shores as well as the rest of the world, that’s one way.”

The task before the diocese and the country, she acknowledges, is not an easy one. “To hear some of the history can trigger for some people that they are being blamed,” LaGesse says.  “I think the way we keep going is to ask how do you do it? What have you tried? Let’s just brainstorm together.”

Jim Naughton is a partner at Canticle Communications and a communications consultant for the Diocese of Washington.

Ruby Sales Says Keep on Fighting for Justice

Activist and theologian, Ruby Sales, spoke at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Sunday, October 11th.

Sales, as a seventeen-year-old, was pushed out of the way of a bullet by Jonathan Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian, who died saving her life.

The Washington National Cathedral unveiled a sculpture of the late, Daniels, 50 years after his death.

After the service commemorating Daniels, Sales spoke to an audience of about 100 people, moderated by Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral.

Sales made it her life’s mission to continue to stand up and speak out on injustices in the United States.

“We see while things have changed, racism is rampant in this society,” Sales said.

Her organization, SpiritHouse Project, has worked diligently to track state-sanctioned murders against people of color.

Since 2007, SpiritHouse Project has documented over 2,000 state-sanctioned deaths against Black people. 98 percent of those counted in that number were unarmed.

“It is not by accident that Black Lives Matter is a theme today,” said Sales. She believes “Black Lives Matter” has always been a theme of the fight for justice even in slavery, and that saying, “All Lives Matter”, is an act of defiance.

“There is a redundancy, when people say, ‘All Lives Matter’, because white lives have always mattered. It is understood in the law and culture and has been asserted that they always have mattered,” said Sales.

Audiences wondered how Sales felt things could be improved.

First, she called for stakeholders in society to tell the truth, such as how the systemic racism, which continues to kill African Americans at the hands of officers, roots back to slavery.

The Second Amendment in the United States Constitution, which in general terms is the right to bear arms, is in relation to the slave patrollers, who were white men, that had the right to own guns to kill slaves if they tried to escape.

She calls this systemic racism part of a “state sponsored empire”, which has continued to flourish. For Sales, the ‘empire’ is an “imperialistic government whose arms extend” to control and oppress members of society.

Sales begged for churches to be honest with their parishioners about the realities of the world, but also inspire them that through extreme faith, they can help with the fight to end unjust deaths of thousands of Black men and women.

Next, she encouraged the audience to stray away from the word ‘solidarity’ in the 21st century. Sales wants people to stop thinking of the notion that other races are solely allies to movements such as Black Lives Matter, because the racism affects everyone in one way or another.

“Racism is not only oppressive to people of color, but coercive to whites too,” Sales said.

Sales noted people such as Jonathan Daniels realized this notion, which is why he fought, was arrested, and ultimately lost his life, because he understood the affect that racism had on society as a whole.

Before Sales’ speech ended, she reminisced on Daniels.

She said Daniels was a fast driver, with twinkling eyes, and a wonderful smile. Sales remembered they were very much alike as they both were angry about the injustices the nation was experiencing.

Sales also talked about the day Daniels lost his life to save hers.

“It was one of those hot Southern days where the heat vibrates the cement… We never thought that someone would be waiting with a shotgun.”

After Daniels death she experienced PTSD, did not talk for a year, and could not be in close spaces. She was hurt by Daniels’ death and did not like that some people made her feel guilty.

Yet, Sales learned that she could not hate those who were oppressive to her, and that is what has continued to motivate her fight for justice and career.

She was reminded of the tune Ella’s Song, famously sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until comes,” as she concluded her remarks of the evening.

Sales encouraged audiences to keep working and pushing towards justice for Black lives.

Micha Green of St. Timothy’s produced this report on Ruby Sales’ visit to St. Alban’s Church on August 16 for a class at Howard University. Sales, who also preached at St. Alban’s, was 17 years old when Jonathan Daniels, a colleague in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, shielded her from a shotgun blast and was killed instantly.

Nothing More, Nor Less, Than Play

“We are here to have fun,” Canon Paula Clark said on Thursday afternoon, greeting those who gathered at the Claggett Center for Camp EDOW for Clergy. Opening our time together in prayer, Paula intentionally used words such as “renew” and “re-create” and “celebrate.”

More than 50 clergy, clergy spouses, and members of Bishop Mariann’s staff gathered from Thursday, May 14 to Friday, May 15 for a time which was really set apart for nothing more, nor nothing less than the work of relationship-building and renewal. True to Paula’s opening invitation, Camp EDOW for Clergy was a celebration, even though to an outside observer it might’ve looked like a whole lot of unstructured playtime. There was a get-to-know-you icebreaker in which those gathered learned the delicate art of holding a piece of string while, at the same time, throwing the ball of string to someone across the circle. All things which kids at summer camp learn much more instinctively, say, than folks who’ve become more accustomed to talking about Prayer Book rubrics and family systems theory. There was an afternoon hike and, for others, time spent on rocking chairs with colleagues or, for still others, a nap and, for some, meditative coloring on what many of us were introduced to as adult coloring books. Who knew that the simple act of coloring pages of architectural and geometric designs could be so, well, rejuvenating and re-creational?

Those patterns of my day-to-day life in ministry – worship, bible study, fellowship, meal conversations – began to have restored to them new, well,renewed meaning in my time with my colleagues at Claggett. I was reminded of the vocationalsignificance behind the occupations of my day. Evening Prayer on Thursday, Holy Eucharist on Friday, and Bible study later that morning were foundational to the experience, of course, but they also seemed to take on a greater focus, a greater clarity since they weren’t events-on-the-schedule (preceding or following another event-on-the-schedule); they were the event itself, the encounter entire. Like all of my colleagues, I do a lot of necessary and important and, yes, holy things in my day-to-day life and work, but how often do I pause, really just take the moment as an encounter entire? There’s nothing quite like relatively unstructured time with ministry colleagues to bring about a real focus, a fact, I suppose, which is just one of those ironies of Christian community that needs to hang out there.

There was plenty of play-time, too, featured in the Thursday night campfire – with requisite s’mores and camp songs. And there was the Amazing (Clergy) Race on Friday afternoon, a series of activities which encouraged some mental and physical exertion activities, all in the name of team building and fun.

It was wonderful to participate in and take a part in helping develop this year’s Camp EDOW for Clergy. Responding to Bishop Mariann’s invitation last spring to help her re-think the ways in which we gather as diocesan clergy, I and others heard her encourage us to find new ways to gather and new formats in which to do so if, in fact, a two-day-away clergy conference is no longer a working model. I don’t think we’ve struck on the perfect model just yet, even while the February retreat and this past weekend’s gathering were successful in their own right. But that’s also, I suspect, Bishop Mariann’s point: that we need to be constantly creating and re-creating, not only in our common, institutional life – as a diocese, as a congregation, as a school – but we need to be doing so, first, in our own walk with God in Christ, remembering how restorative it is to do nothing more, nor nothing less than just play.

Camp EDOW: Building a New Tradition

A new tradition is building. At Camp EDOW, where lots of traditions have developed in the four short years of its existence, another ritual is introduced and welcomed. On our last full day of camp, we celebrated our first pool Eucharist.

Some sit along the edges of a glistening pool and some wade quietly inside the clear water. Our voices rise together in song, singing heartily about the journey of Noah and his animals. We listen as we hear the story – so familiar but told in a new way that seals the marching procession of animals into the ark as a new memory for this year’s Camp EDOW. A new memory, a new tradition: worship at the pool.

Here at Camp EDOW where a community has been nurtured day by day, we are building traditions, friendships and bonds. Those who came as strangers are now friends, renewed friendships have strengthened and a deeper community has been formed.

On the last full day of camp, smiles are everywhere tainted only slightly by bittersweet moments of reality that in a few hours it will all be over. Energy is high as campers zip through the trees on the zip line as the final activity for the ropes course. Hardly anyone cowers at the 30-foot pole and 100 feet zip line. They have a cheering, supportive community encouraging and spurring them on. Again and again, the common refrain at the end is “the hardest part was climbing the ladder.” But the courage to move past that fear to accomplish the task is what we celebrate here and what makes new traditions at Camp EDOW.

It’s a day filled with demonstrations of all that has been learnt this week. The zip line completes a week of strengthening bonds, learning to communicate and supporting each other as a team during the ropes courses. Our time in Faithnastics closes with creative and innovative dramatizations of Peter walking on water, Noah and the ark and Jonah sent to Nineveh.

As the day draws to a close, we gather outside the Dining Hall for another Camp EDOW tradition, the annual Karaoke and Dance Party. Energy is high. It does not take long for the sign up sheet to be filled as campers create their own boy and girl bands – new friendships are on display.

Our community is strong and flourishing. That’s evident in the impromptu games of basketball and field hockey that pop-up, in the groups that sign up for karaoke and the budding friendships that we witness around the camp. In these moments, we see our community at its best. Strangers have become friends and new bonds are forming.

That’s how this community flourishes. We celebrate small moments of courage, big acts of caring and daily displays of growth. We make memories and create traditions.

Melissa Williams is the Camp EDOW Middle Camp Program Director.

Reflections and Video on Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage

Last week, twelve Diocese of Washington pilgrims, including Bishop Mariann, joined 30 others from across the Episcopal Church to trace the path of the Civil Rights Movement for racial justice in Alabama. Our pilgrimage was sponsored by the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and marked the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a white seminarian who was killed on August 20, 1965, after pushing aside teenaged civil rights worker, Ruby Sales, saving her life.

Early in the pilgrimage I was moved to tears looking at the footage of the Children’s Crusade at Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute, and taking in the commemorative statue at Kelly Ingram Park.

Later, I was honored and humbled to walk across the Edmund Pettus bridge, the site of “Bloody Sunday” March 7, 1965, where over 600 protesters for voting rights were bloodied and beaten by Alabama State troopers.  

On Saturday, August 15, we went to Hayneville, Alabama, the town where Daniels was killed, to pay homage to him and other Alabama martyrs. The remembrance included saying prayers and singing hymns at the courthouse where Daniels’ killer was tried and found not guilty by an all white jury; the jail in which Daniels and other Civil Rights workers were held; the site of Varner’s Cash store where Daniels’ was killed; and, finally inside the courthouse, where the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, and Presiding Bishop-Elect, gave a rousing sermon, quoting the conductor of the Underground Railroad, Harriet Tubman, who said to the slaves she was leading to freedom, “If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If there’s shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” Curry exhorted all present to “keep going” in the work for racial justice. The sermon was followed by a bell tolling ceremony, telling the stories, and lifting placards which pictured  the martyrs of Alabama. The service culminated with communion.  As we pulled out of Hayneville the day was powerful and exhilarating, until we stopped at a nearby Stuckey’s.

I was met at the entrance of Stuckey’s by a t-shirt emblazoned with the Confederate Battle Flag. The shirt was prominently displayed at the door, so it could not be missed, and read, “If This Shirt Offends You, You Need A History Lesson.” As an African American, I could not help reading the t-shirt out loud. To my dismay, the Shoney’s cashier, flanked with actual Confederate battle flags on the counter, glared and nodded at me. In that moment, I knew that I and all the pilgrims of African descent were not welcome. So, the whole group, all 40+ pilgrims, about-faced and kept our money in our pockets.

This incident could have shaken our spirits, had some of us not gone an hour later to the Dexter Avenue Memorial King Church, home of the congregation that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led during the Montgomery boycotts. Knowing the church was closed for the day, our smaller group went there anyway to take pictures outside, and were unexpectedly, yet warmly, welcomed in by Wanda, a member of the tour ministry, despite the fact they were officially closed. Wanda led us in song at the threshold, gave us words of encouragement, and took us through the basement of the church into Dr. King’s office, decorated with personal memorabilia and pictures. It was amazing! Some of us sat in Dr. King’s chair, and I, for one, could hear the words of Tubman, Curry, and perhaps King saying, “Keep Going!” The juxtaposition of the menacing door at Stuckey’s , and the welcoming door at Dexter Avenue Church showed us the Holy Spirit at work and encouraged us to “Keep Going!” The work of justice and equality is not over.  “Keep Going!”

The Rev. Paula Clark is Canon for Clergy Development and Multicultural Ministries for the Diocese of Washington