Christians Must Stand Against Racial Intolerance

This op-ed piece first appeared in the Erie Times-News on August 18, 2017. 

Last weekend, white supremacists marched and then rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia while the country looked on in horror. We have been conditioned to fear terrorists from other countries who speak different languages and practice different religions, but these violent, hateful extremists were mostly young white men, and mostly Christian. Those of us who are Christians need to acknowledge this, and we need to respond.

The League of the South, one hate group that participated in Unite the Right, as the Charlottesville rally was called, advocates establishing a white Christian theocratic state. In February the league called for the formation of a “Southern Defense Force,” a militia to combat the “leftist menace to our historic Christian civilization.”

It is comforting to assume that our faith never truly took hold in the hearts of people who are so hateful and so given to violence. But history makes plain that we are not entitled to such comfort.

In 1493, the church “granted” to Spain the lands where Columbus had landed. The assumptions that this land rightfully belonged to white European Christians and that the church ruled the earth in God’s stead were symptoms of the catastrophic theological arrogance that would have devastating consequences for indigenous people around the globe who would be sacrificed on the altar of Christian empire.

The decree that promulgated what became known as the “Doctrine of Discovery” gave the church’s blessing to colonization which, in turn, brought about the need for slave labor to make the colonies economically viable.

Nearly two years ago, I stood in the slave dungeons of the Cape Coast Castle on the coast of Ghana. Beginning in 1664, the enormous fort was in the hands of the British, who used it to send nearly three million enslaved Africans to the New World. The soldiers and sailors who lived in the castle and traded in human beings built their Anglican chapel directly above the men’s dungeons. My own church, the Episcopal Church, is directly descended from these Anglican slave traders.

There are many more recent examples of the church’s complicity and active participation in racism, prejudice and bigotry.

Most churches in the United States split over the issue of slavery, with southern churches supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War. But even in Union territory, segregation often prevailed. Here in our Episcopal cathedral in Erie, black people were made to worship separately from white people well into the twentieth century.

During the Nazi regime, Christians belonging to the German Evangelical Church supported Hitler and the extermination of Jewish people. Even the Confessing Church in Germany, often lauded for its resistance to Hitler, spoke primarily about the church’s independence from the state and, with few exceptions, did not speak or act in support of Jews being deported to their deaths in concentration camps. And in South Africa, the Dutch Reformed Church actively supported the racist system of apartheid that finally fell in 1991.

It is possible to argue that those whose hearts are filled with racially-motivated hatred have never understood the true teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but only if one acknowledges that the church itself has misunderstood these teachings. It may, however, be more accurate to say that churches, for centuries, have denied the radical egalitarianism of Jesus’ teaching for its own self-interested reasons.

If contemporary Christians are to oppose the racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia that has asserted themselves with renewed and appalling vigor since the election of President Trump, we must look beyond our self-interest. We must not be as timid as the Peter who denied Jesus on the night of his arrest, but as bold as the Peter who, after the Resurrection proclaimed that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

The President continues to send what can be described, with an excess of charity, as mixed signals on issues of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance.  The church, with a humility born of its own sins, but a boldness born of its faith in Jesus, must challenge any ambiguity with the clarity of the Gospel. It is our duty to speak out, to engage the civic organizations of our communities on behalf of those who are being persecuted, and to name evil where we see it—whether it is in our leaders, or within our own equivocating souls.

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe is the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. He and his family live in Erie.

Engaging Community with National Night Out

The Cathedral of St. Paul participated in National Night Out on Tuesday, August 1st at Gridley Park on Erie’s lower west side. National Night Out is a national event which seeks to show unity, encourage everyone to play a role in supporting the education of youth in our neighborhoods, and to take a stand against crime in our city by building stronger police-community relationships .

More than 1,000 neighbors enjoyed the festivities from 6:00pm to 9:00pm on a beautiful  summer  evening at Gridley Park. All enjoyed a free hot dog dinner, fun games and activities in which parents and children were able to participate together, and listened and danced to a mix of local musical entertainment. There were also over two dozen social service agencies providing helpful information and giveaways.  Police, fire and emergency service providers gave tours of their vehicles and educated young and old about their services.

The event is grant funded through the Erie County United Way and additionally sponsored by five neighborhood watch groups and more than twenty five neighborhood businesses and churches.

As an inner-city church in the heart of downtown Erie, much of our outreach is focused on our neighbors and National Night Out is just one more example of our ministry to and with our neighbors and we are so thankful for the opportunity.

Cass Shimek is the Cathedral Administrator and is a member of the Our West Bayfront National Night Out Committee.

Have a question? Ask the Bishop!

The Diocese is getting ready to film the eighth installment of the “Ask the Bishop” video series, which means we’re looking for questions from you!

Unfortunately, Bishop Sean cannot be with every member of the diocese all the time, but he would like to be able to answer questions you may have. If there is something you’d like to hear the bishop’s thoughts on (i.e., Convention, Explorer’s Day, Bible questions, you name it!), send your questions to Megin (msewak@dionwpa.org) by August 30.  You can view past “Ask the Bishop” videos here and see what sort of topics have already been covered.

Please include your name and congregation with your submission, and then watch for ‘Ask the Bishop 8’ on the Forward blog, Facebook, and Twitter!
ask the bishop

Courage and Collaboration in Christian Community: Diocesan Convention 2017

We have a lot of exciting things going on in our diocese right now and, to reflect that, this year’s convention will not be business as usual!

As part of our ongoing conversation about collaboration and innovation in the church, we will be welcoming the Rt. Rev. William Franklin and a large contingent from the Diocese of Western New York.  Just two weeks prior to our convention, we will have sent a contingent to their convention (and there’s still time to sign up to join us!  Visit our website to do so).  They will join us for our entire convention and we will have ample time to get to know one another.

Those that have attended convention in the past may notice that we will have a different emphasis for the content of our convention.  This convention will be very mission-focused and the schedule will reflect that. We will have a more condensed time for business than we usually do so that we have the time we need for learning and conversation.

To help us continue our work on innovation and collaboration, we have invited the Rev. Canon Scott Slater to be with us.  Scott has been an Episcopal priest since 1993 and has served in the Diocese of Maryland since 2001. Following nine years as rector of Church of the Good Shepherd in Baltimore, he began serving on the bishops’ staff as the Canon to the Ordinary in July of 2010. In 2015, he became a Certified Daring WayTM Facilitator based on the work of Brene Brown, Ph.D.  He will be leading us through a program relating to issues regarding shared ministry, both on the diocesan and congregational levels, using the work of Brené Brown.  Please see below for links to videos from Brené, as well as to some of her books.  If you are able, we would encourage you to take the time to look at some of her work prior to convention.

We urge our clergy and delegates to come ready to engage in these conversations. Please do not use the condensed business time as an excuse to not attend the entire convention.  The work that we will be doing at the convention, though not the conventional business, will be setting the table for the future of our diocese. We would also encourage those laypeople who are not delegates but who are interested in being a part of this conversation, to please join us as well.  We will have plenty of space for those who would like to join us and we would love to have you there.

Videos from Brené:
The Power of Vulnerability
Brené on Blame
Brené on Empathy

DR Mission Trip Day 7 – Friday

The eye clinic was a success!!! There were lots of people that got glasses, and we are even ordering some for other people! Some people that came in didn’t even need glasses – they were so shocked! On Wednesday we didn’t have Randy, our translator, but we still managed to understand the people and give them glasses. There were people in their 70’s that needed glasses. We thought, “how could someone go that long and just now realize they need glasses?”  

The kids LOVED vacation bible school, even the little ones!! They  would come up to you and hug and kiss you, then they would ramble on and on even if you didn’t understand them! The older ones would cheat in the games here and there, but then Father Hipolito talked to some of them and calmed everything down. Some of the older kids were helpers, and they are slowly learning English from some of us. 

So many good things happened this week: meeting new people and remembering kids from last year, happy people from the eye clinic, our adventures to Bon, meeting a parrot, and unexpected rain storms. This week was one for the books, and we wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of the hardest things was saying goodbye – since this is our senior year we don’t know what the future holds. We hope we can come back and see their beautiful faces again some day. 

– Abby and Sarah Wheeler, Resurrection Church, Hermitage, PA

DR Mission Trip Day 6 – Thursday

I’m not much of a writer, so please bear with me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on this mission trip, but when my twin daughters Abby and Sarah said they were interested I thought this would be a great opportunity for the three of us to have together. And what an experience it has been!

As I sit on this balcony of the hotel listening to the sounds of traffic, the occasional siren, horns honking and people talking in their native language, i’m absolutely amazed. It’s busy, it’s hectic,but at the same time soothing and relaxing. It’s mesmerizing. Yesterday some of us from our group sat for an hour on the balcony and watched people jump start a car! That is definitely something I would not take the time to watch at home, so why here? I just can’t explain it.

When we attended church on Sunday I was intimidated. I didn’t know what to expect. I was so surprised by the warm welcome along with the feeling of love and acceptance from Father Hipolito and the people from his church. The language barrier was there but the smiles broke through that barrier and put me at ease. After church, as we set up for bible school and the eye clinic, I began to feel at home. Some of the staff and children helped and joined us for lunch where we became better acquainted.

In the morning as we climb out of the van, some of the children greet us with hugs and kisses as we walk into the church. Throughout the day the outpouring of affection continues. If you sit for more than a few minutes chances are there will be a little one on your lap or braiding your hair. Their excitement and enthusiasm for every song, every game, every craft is infectious. You can’t help but smile, sing and laugh right along! It seems hard to believe we have only one more day to experience all this joy.

Speaking of joy, the eye clinic has brought that and so much more! We have had the privilege of seeing faces light up as they put glasses on and see all the beauty that surrounds them. We have received many a hug from complete strangers who are so grateful and appreciative. In America we go to our yearly eye exams and never think twice. Here, there are older adults who have never experienced an exam let alone had glasses to see clearly.

In the evenings our group gathers on the roof of our hotel for evening prayer and a time to share. We’ve become comfortable with one another. As the nights go by we spend more time up there telling stories and laughing. We have become a family. We have become one church. It’s a great day in the kingdom!!

– Chris Wheeler, Resurrection Church, Hermitage, PA

DR Mission Trip Day 5 – Wednesday

Today was a warm and uncomfortable day, like most days here.  I started off at breakfast with a veggie omelet that was not a veggie omelet, but regular scrambled eggs. I was glad it was a nutritious breakfast and I am glad I ordered it. It gave me energy for my busy day ahead.

My day got better after breakfast at Bible School. I saw the kids and that made my day. I love their chubby cheeks and their bright eyes. I always pinch the cheeks. For our craft of the day we made bead bracelets.  The beads were made out of plastic and wood and a silver heart hung from the middle. They seemed to really enjoy that. The beads flew everywhere!

Today at the eye clinic I had the job of helping patients read the eye chart. This job was especially hard to do because they were saying “up, down, left, right” in Spanish.  I had to pay attention to what their motions were, if they were correct,  and what line they were reading. I got frustrated at times, but I made it through.

Although it’s hard down here, I am learning a lot and I am having fun.

Anyah  Holben

DR Mission Trip Day 4 – Tuesday

I have always felt a calling to mission and am finding this first opportunity to be all that I had imagined it to be. What has made the trip an even richer experience is being able to share it with my son, Ben. Watching him interact with the mission team and the Dominican children and adults we are here serving has been a real pleasure.

Today, we completed day two of our Vacation Bible School and held another successful vision clinic. We are finding that the need is great in the community surrounding the church. The language barrier is frustrating, but we are fortunate to have a dedicated translator, Randy, who has been so wonderful in helping us to communicate. Several children from the church have been a big help each day. While they don’t speak English, they are getting familiar with our routines and needs and are able to give directions to our clients as we do the vision screenings. They are even trying to teach us some Spanish and are very patient!

After a busy day at the church when we return to our hotel, my favorite place to sit is the hotel balcony. A nice breeze and a chance to observe the busy street below are a welcome diversion after our busy day. Before we head to bed, we meet on the hotel rooftop for evening prayer and spend time reflecting on the day’s events. It’s the perfect way to end the day.

– Missy Baron

DR Mission Trip Day 3 – Monday

After our first days here in the Dominican Republic, I have made a few realizations about what I will take away from this experience. As we have settled into our routines, become familiar with the differences of the culture, and completed a successful day doing God’s work, I am certain I will come away from this trip with a better understanding of myself and a desire to continue to use my gifts to help others.

My first realization came from today’s work.  I have become accustomed to my privilege and often do not give thanks for the things that I take for granted on a daily basis.  Today we set up for the first appointments of the vision clinic. Most of the people who came to the clinic, having never received an eye exam, did not question their ability to see. I did not realize that the annual eye exams that I have been fortunate enough to have would be considered a luxury to the people I encountered today in the Dominican Republic. In a total of 3 hours, our team was successfully able to see 26 people and distribute 23 pairs of glasses.  Together, our team worked diligently to meet the needs of others. It was encouraging to see that we really did make a difference.

Likewise, this brings me to my next realization: we all have gifts that we need to share.  Along with the first day of the vision clinic, today was also the first day we worked with the children in the vacation bible school. Each person did their part to make sure activities ran smoothly and that the children had a memorable experience. In order for us to reach the end goal (to build up the kingdom) we must use and share the gifts that God has given us.

I was able to use some of my gifts today.  For the last 3 years I’ve taken a Spanish course in school. I’m definitely not fluent but I can form simple sentences and struggle my way through understanding other’s requests. Today I was really able to practice and put my acquired gifts to use when I gave instructions to people receiving prescriptions from the auto-refractor. When I didn’t understand a person’s request, the young girls in the church assisted me by presenting it in simpler Spanish terms I knew.

I’m overjoyed to be able to work with such an amazing team and have no doubt in our group’s success. I am happy to contribute to the good work that Father Hipolito has done to build the church in this community.

-Ben Baron  

DR Mission Trip Day Two – Sunday

Glorious Sunday!!

Our team was up early today for breakfast because the van needed to pick us up at 8:30. We didn’t want to be late for 9:00 service. Our friends here have not changed. Only the children have grown taller since my last visit two years ago. Fr. Hipolito looks just the same. His humor is the same as is his energy level. Not bad for a man who’s 88 years old!! We waited for over half an hour for the service to actually begin. That’s just how things are done here.

Fr. Adam Trambley presented the sermon in English while our interpreter Ernesto translated. Wow, what a great talk he gave regarding us going out to others to help, love, and serve God. He also led much of the service–in impressive Spanish, I must say. Afterward we were whisked upstairs in the school to begin setting up eye clinic supplies. Miraculously, we were able to successfully register 640 or so pairs of glasses. Tomorrow we will hold clinic each afternoon. Our hope is to see 20 patients each day. The need here is great, so hopefully we’ll be able to do these wonderful people some good!

All our Bible School supplies are ready and waiting for tomorrow as well. We expect to welcome 60 or more children each day. We are really excited to begin!

What will I remember about today? The breathtaking view from the school where we ate a delicious homemade lunch prepared by the church women, a solo to entertain the congregation while we waited for our service to begin (our singer was all of 5 years old and never missed a beat), the colorful parrot owned by a parishioner who sat on our arms, fingers, and necks. I will remember comments from our wonderful team members who are here for the first time. Every single person stepped up and helped with anything needed today. We have so many gifts to give and share, from our ability to work with children, to our ability to lead others, to our ability to adjust in a completely situation. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!!

– Sue Frontino