Response to Racial Violence at St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill

by | Mar 29, 2021

Dear Friends of the Diocese of Washington,

I write with somber news and a request for prayer. 

Last Friday, March 26th, the Director of Music at St. Mark’s Capitol Hill, Jeff Kempski, discovered that someone had hung a noose from a prominent tree in the church courtyard where children from the church’s daycare come outside to play and people from the neighborhood often eat lunch, meet for coffee, meditate and pray. 

We may never know the identity of the person or persons who did this nor what motivated them. The message they conveyed, however, is horrifyingly clear, particularly for African Americans and people of color in our diocese and the communities they serve. As the Rev. Michele Morgan, rector of St. Mark’s, told the religious editor of the Washington Post, “Such a symbol of racialized hatred is shocking to see where I gather with people to talk about God. . .We are in the business where symbols matter.” 

Washington, D.C. police officers and a representative from Mayor Bowser’s office responded quickly, and the incident is being investigated as a suspected hate crime. I asked the detective how often such symbols are placed in public spaces in the city. He said, “It happens quite a bit, actually; far more than people realize.” In a public statement, the police said, “These types of offenses are taken seriously and are entirely unacceptable.”

After the police took down the noose, a small group of us from the church and neighborhood, as well as leaders of a musical ensemble preparing for a production at St. Mark’s and Police Officer Thomspon, who said that he could use some prayer, gathered around the tree. We offered prayers to bless the tree, reconsecrate the courtyard, and remember all persons wounded by racial hatred, including those responsible for the symbol of racial hatred. 

In this Holy Week, may we all acknowledge and lament the pain such symbols of racial violence cause people of color in our churches and communities. On behalf of the entire diocese, I write to express our renunciation of the attitudes and crimes all these symbols express and support for those who feel the pain of them most personally. As we remember the violence Jesus endured for the sake of the world, we call to mind God’s particular solidarity with those suffering similar violence now. 

I ask for your vigilance, for churches are frequently the target of racial violence. I am concerned for your safety and well-being–particularly our leaders and communities of color and all who have taken public positions for racial justice—in a time when fellow human beings feel they have license to harm others with both symbols and acts of violence. We are working to gather more resources for our congregations in this fraught time, including increased security where needed and on-going consciousness-raising for us all.  

Yet we know that with God, hatred and violence do not have the final word. On Sunday we gather to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as God’s definitive response and gift to us, and we live as people of the resurrection in this world. To that end, St. Mark’s is  planning a neighborhood event on Holy Saturday to promote love and good will. “Our commitment to seeing everyone as a beloved child of God remains,” Michele wrote to the people of St. Mark’s. “We will seek and serve Christ in all persons, and we will continue to do our work to bring more light, more love, and more God into the world.” 

Amen. This is the work for us all. We walk toward resurrection, as the first disciples did, before the light of dawn. 

May God protect, sustain and guide us as we follow Jesus and His Way of Love. 

Bishop Mariann