50 Years Ago a White Seminarian was murdered saving a black teenager (includes sermon by Presiding Bishop Elect Michael Curry)

The video below is of the sermon Presiding Bishop-Elect the Rt. Rev. Micheal Curry gave August 17th, 2015, in the courthouse during the 50th Anniversary Commemoration for Jonathan Myrick Daniels–an Episcopal seminarian who was slain in Hayneville, AL on August 20, 1965 while working for civil rights.

About Jonathan Myrick Daniels (exerted from Wikipedia):

m-5733Jonathan Myrick Daniels was an Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist. In 1965 he was murdered in Hayneville, Alabama while in the act of saving a young woman civil rights activist. They both were working in the Civil Rights Movement in Lowndes County. Daniels’ death generated further support for the Civil Rights Movement.

In March 1965, Daniels answered the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, who recruited students and clergy to join the movement in Selma, Alabama, to take part in the march for voting rights from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Daniels and several other seminary students left for Alabama on Thursday, intending to stay the weekend. After Daniels and friend Judith Upham missed the bus home, they had second thoughts about their short stay. The two returned to the seminary just long enough to request permission to spend the rest of the semester working in Selma, where they would also study on their own and return at the end of the term to take exams.

In Selma Daniels stayed with the Wests, a local African-American family. During the next months, Daniels worked to integrate the local Episcopal church by taking groups of young African Americans to the church. The church members were not welcoming. In May, Daniels returned to the seminary to take his semester exams and passed.

Daniels returned to Alabama in July to continue his work. He helped assemble a list of federal, state, and local agencies that could provide assistance for those in need. He also tutored children, helped poor locals apply for aid, and worked to register voters. That summer, on August 2, 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act which would provide broad federal oversight and enforcement of the constitutional right.

On August 14, 1965, Daniels was one of a group of 29 protesters, including members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who went to Fort Deposit, Alabama to picket its whites-only stores. All of the protesters were arrested and taken to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville. The police released five juvenile protesters the next day. The rest of the group was held for six days; they refused to accept bail unless everyone was bailed.

Finally, on August 20, the prisoners were released without transport back to Fort Deposit. After release, the group waited near the courthouse jail while one of their members called for transport. Daniels with three others—a white Catholic priest and two black female activists—walked to buy a cold soft drink at nearby Varner’s Cash Store, one of the few local places to serve non-whites. But barring the front was Tom L. Coleman, an unpaid special deputy who was holding a shotgun and had a pistol in a holster. Coleman threatened the group and leveled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Sales down and caught the full blast of the shotgun. He was instantly killed. Father Richard F. Morrisroe grabbed activist Joyce Bailey and ran with her. Coleman shot Morrisroe, severely wounding him in the lower back, and then stopped firing.

A grand jury indicted Coleman for manslaughter. Richmond Flowers, Sr., the Attorney General of Alabama, believed the charge should have been murder and intervened in the prosecution, but was thwarted by the trial judge. Coleman claimed self-defense and was acquitted of manslaughter charges by an all-white jury.

The murder of an educated, white seminarian who was defending an unarmed teenage girl shocked members of the Episcopal Church and other whites into facing the reality of racial inequality in the South. Other members worked to continue the civil rights movement and work for social justice. Upon learning of Daniels’ murder, Martin Luther King, Jr. stated that “one of the most heroic Christian deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry was performed by Jonathan Daniels”. In 1991 Daniels was designated as a martyr in the Episcopal church, and is recognized annually. Ruby Sales went on to attend Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School). She works as a human rights advocate in Washington, D.C. and founded an inner-city mission dedicated to Daniels.

The Perfect Gateway To Be A Witness To Christ

This is the second installment in a three part series highlighting the stories of our three seminarians. Click here to see the first story about Nicholas Evancho, written in April of 2015.

IMG_0020Making arrests. Threats of being blown up by those who have cut their gas lines to avoid arrest. Gun fights. Taking parents away from their children. All of these can be in a day’s work for Nick Kuchcinski, a member of the Cathedral of St. Paul and one of three seminarians in the diocese, in his job as an Adult Probation/Parole Officer. None of these things are typically events that we equate with being particularly evocative of God or ministry. However, for Nick, they are just that: “Some people see incongruity in my career and the ordination process. I see my career as a perfect gateway into people’s lives to be a witness to Christ.”

Nick’s journey to his career as a probation officer and to the ordination process in The Episcopal Church began in Erie, where he was born and raised. He was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church. Even as a teenager, Nick felt called to holy orders, however, he also felt just as strongly that he was called to have a family. Being Roman Catholic, he couldn’t do both. He attended Gannon University, where he majored in Criminal Justice. After college, Nick got married and focused on his career in criminal justice, which first took him to Allenwood, PA, to work as a corrections officer in a federal prison before returning to Erie for his current Kuchcinski and kidsjob. During that time, Nick and his wife had two wonderful children, but ended up divorcing, and he has since remarried.

It was the divorce that started Nick’s journey toward The Episcopal Church and the ordination process: “After the divorce I really started discerning my spiritual home not being in the Roman Catholic Church. I felt like a second class citizen because I wasn’t allowed to receive communion.” Nick hit a point where he couldn’t be true to himself and stay where he was.

Nick spends a lot of time in the courthouse, located across the street from the Cathedral of St. Paul, for his job. He started researching the Cathedral and eventually met with the dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Dr. John Downey. Dean Downey reassured him that, in The Episcopal Church, he could receive the sacraments even though he was divorced. Armed with that knowledge and finding a comfort in the liturgical nature of the church, a part of the Roman Catholic Church he had always loved, Nick soon found a church home at the Cathedral.

That was 5 years ago. Nick quickly got involved and the thoughts of priesthood started coming back to him. One Sunday in 2012, when he was vesting to serve as an acolyte, he finally got the courage and asked Dean Downey what it would take to become a priest in The Episcopal Church. Dean Downey responded, “I wondered when you were going to ask.” The rest is history.

Kuchcinski at CDSPNick Kuchcinski spent two weeks this past June at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) starting work on his Masters of Divinity degree. He is enrolled in their low residency program, which meets on campus twice a year for a few weeks and has online coursework the rest of the year. This is an ideal situation for him as he can work towards his degree while still maintaining his career.

While at CDSP, Nick enjoyed the schedule of classes bracketed by prayer (morning prayer, noon Eucharist, and evening prayer) that helped him feel fully immersed in the seminary lifestyle. Nick also enjoyed the intentional community and being able to form bonds with his fellow classmates: “We still pray together online every couple of weeks.” He was also amazed at the common experience of sitting in chapel with people from all over the world praying out of the same prayer book.

The plan is for Nick to be a bi-vocational priest, meaning that he will keep his job as an Adult Probation/Parole officer while serving part-time at a congregation.  This is fitting for Nick as he believes that he can be a witness in his role as a probation officer, just as well as when he is in his role as a priest. He sees the key as recognizing that every person, including the one he is arresting, is a human being made in the image and likeness of God. While it can be difficult at times, he pushes himself to deal with people with love so that others may see Christ in him and learn to see Christ in every person. By joining his secular vocation with his ordination, he hopes to be able to reach even more people with the message of Christ.

Nick will return to CDSP in January for the next on-campus immersion for his Masters in Divinity.

By: Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration and Vanessa Butler, Canon for Administration