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March 2021
Revitalized Racial Justice Commission extends invitation and challenge in this "kairos moment"
Members of the Racial Justice Commission: (top, from left) Noble Scheepers, Natalie Thomas, Karen Coleman, Kristine Wile; (center) Zena Link, Michael Melendez, Constance Perry, H. Mark Smith; (bottom) Kelsey Rice-Bogdan, Holly Carter, Hall Kirkham, Diane Wong; Courtesy photos
Members of the diocese’s recently reconfigured Racial Justice Commission came before the Diocesan Convention last November bearing messages from the larger advisory group that they had been meeting with regularly over the summer to put some foundations in place:

“This is justice work, identifying whatever takes away from a person’s dignity. We have to see the importance of this endeavor. Diocese, please support this commission’s work.”

“We hope you’ll join us on this transforming journey. There will be obstacles on the way, but we can move them together as God’s people. You are beloved of God, and all of us should feel beloved. Change is needed to accomplish this.”

“We can often see racial justice as just a box that we check. Rather, we hope that you will join us in deep personal transformation.”

“We want to be clear that this is an invitation that extends to persons of color. We want you to join us in addressing even internalized racism.”

“Finally, let us remember the truth of resurrection. Some things need to die and fall away. This will be painful, but it will restore us into greater relationship.”

Invitation, challenge, hope, plea.

The authentic and large-scale conversation about racism—called for by the diocesan mission strategy and necessary for healing and change—will be frustrated if structural, systemic and cultural aspects of racism in the diocese are allowed to continue, they said.

As commission member and convention presenter Constance Perry of Trinity Church in Boston put it, “We will defeat our future if we live with a comfortable gaze on the past.”

Since the convention, the Racial Justice Commission has been forming subcommittees and organizing for work in five priority areas: transparency and accountability in organizational practices and processes; just allocation of financial resources and compensation; support for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) leaders, congregations and communities; reparations; and a rethink and reprovision of formation and liturgy resources considered from an antiracist point of view.

“Because the work is large, we’ve been finding people who want to join us in the work, people who represent the whole of the diocese, people who have a particular interest in things like reparations, formation, how we integrate antiracism principles into everything we do as a church,” the Rev. Natalie Thomas said in a recent interview with several commission leaders.

“The work since the convention has also been to begin thinking about what it looks like on a very practical level to take stock of where racism is showing up in the church and what kinds of questions we can ask so we can do the work together,” Thomas said.

A deacon serving at St. Barnabas’s Church in Falmouth, she co-chairs the Racial Justice Commission with the Rev. Noble Scheepers, the rector of Trinity Church in Marshfield.

“We’re trying to be very intentional and operate in a way that’s reflective of our end goal,” added Kristine Wile, a member of the commission from St. Elizabeth’s Church in Sudbury who has been serving as an interim co-chair.

“I know there is a lot of forward energy in pockets, which is such a blessing and will enable us to succeed, and, at the same time, we kind of have to go slow to go fast,” Wile said.

The commission has also been dovetailing its work plan with the several mandates of Diocesan Convention resolutions adopted in November: To address the neglect of the seven historically Black churches of the diocese; to make recommendations for the creation of a reparations fund in acknowledgment of and repentance for the sin and legacy of slavery; and to provide a “toolbox” of resources to help the diocese’s congregations and organizations examine their historic involvement in, and financial assets derived from, the forced labor of enslaved people.

“This is the kairos moment for us. Certainly that was the impression I had after the convention, a new sense of spirit of fighting for good, for justice, for equality that was manifested in the very successful acceptance, almost affirmation, of the resolutions that were passed, but also a sense of the new manifestation of ubuntu, which is the Zulu word for being a person among persons and giving that recognition across the racial divide,” the Rev. Noble Scheepers recalled.

God-centeredness and a commitment to truth and reconciliation principles must undergird the work ahead, he said.

“There is the very, very strong tenet of practicing confession and forgiveness, and that attitude and that practice has to grow for the Racial Justice Commission to be effective in the diocese and in the dismantling of white supremacy it’s built on. That’s the journey we’re on at the moment,” Scheepers said.
Truth-telling and repentance toward dismantling our structural racism: "God intends us to succeed"
A reflection on dismantling structural racism in South African context
By The Rev. Noble Scheepers

Racism distorts all parts of a system. It is a systemic and structural scourge gnawing at the very core of society. In seeking to dismantle racism, it is imperative to first acknowledge that the manifestations of racism don't just happen because of a few social, political or business miscreants. They occur because the environment of racism nurtured and still promoted by a culture rooted in apartheid did not end at the ballot box.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu taught us that the legacy of apartheid—the well of bitterness—seemed too deep and current to be obliterated by the mere embracing of partnership. The contrasts remain too stark; yet there is resolve, because truth-telling and reconciliation can turn into something lasting and fruitful. I have seen church leaders in South Africa confess and beg forgiveness. I have experienced church leaders here in Massachusetts confess and beg forgiveness. BIPOC persons have wonderful capacity to forgive. We believe in our interdependence, for we say a person is a person through other persons and humanity is bound up with one another.

People that have suffered the injustice of racism themselves should be the primary actors to define what justice means and how they would see that justice could be achieved. Victims and/or their descendants should define identity and guide appropriate responses from the communities of transformative justice. A victim-centered approach is intrinsic to our notion of justice.
The Rev. Noble Scheepers
Courtesy photo
For churches in the struggle for racial justice, acknowledging that racism violates people's and creation's integrity, as well as interpersonal relationships, is a requirement. Where racism is or has been present, victims and the church community have been harmed and need healing and wholeness. That implies that the members of the community who committed the offense and sin of racism or their descendants should be helped by the community to understand the harm that racism has caused to the victims—peoples and environment, historically and at the present—and to take responsibility. An element of that responsibility is confession, apology and asking for forgiveness.

Truth, however, is healing to both the victims and the offenders. Truth is healing of the individual members as well as of the community and their institutional life. Truth-telling, individual and institutional, belongs to our notion of justice.

In addressing racism and historical wrongs, it is essential to hold together acknowledgement, truth-telling, confession of complicity, omission or commission, apology, asking for forgiveness, restitution, "putting things right" in relationships, reconciliation, healing and wholeness. That is the great challenge of which we are aware. Let's celebrate with the pluralism of our cultures and ethnicities, because God intends us to succeed, for the sake of the world.

The Rev. Noble Scheepers is the rector of Trinity Church in Marshfield and co-chair of the diocesan Racial Justice Commission.
Research begins to uncover story of Walker Hancock sculptures at Trinity, Topsfield: While many visitors to Trinity Church in Topsfield may notice the set of striking bronze sculptures on the grounds of the church depicting Christ and three apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, fewer people have known or understood much about the history of the sculptures or their sculptor until Meg Black, a member of Trinity Church and an art history professor, spent years researching them.
Her project started when a previous rector of Trinity Church asked Black if she would be willing to look into the history of the sculptures, knowing she held a Ph.D. in art. Volunteering for the project, Black began her research and quickly realized that the church had something special on its grounds.

“Whatever information we had was very little,” Black said in a recent interview. “It was one of those things where time goes by and people move on and you just lose this information. People didn’t know what we had with these sculptures, and were just stunned to find out.”

What Black discovered was that the work, "The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane," was created by famous sculptor Walker Hancock after being commissioned by donor William Coolidge, who donated the land on River Road in Topsfield for Trinity Church to be built in 1959.

As an art historian, Black was particularly struck by the amount of emotion shown in these sculptures, a noted departure from more academic and rigid neoclassical sculptures.
The figure of Christ has an elongated body and is sculpted with his hands on his face in "agony." Courtesy photo
“I think it’s because [Hancock] has Christ kneeling with the hands over the eyes and the face, he elongates the body, and that stretching is almost like a precursor to being stretched on the cross,” Black said. “I just think there’s so much more going on in this piece, and I’m not just saying that as an opinion, I am speaking from the scholarship to say it.”

When it came time for the statues to be dedicated in a ceremony in 1966, it was decided that the statues would be dedicated to Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian and civil rights activist who was killed the previous year while saving the life of another young activist, Ruby Sales, in Alabama. Though Black hopes to find more information about how this came to be, it is clear, she believes, that the meaning behind these sculptures is only enhanced by the dedication.

“In the world we live in today, with so much animosity, this example of this man bringing so many people together over a tragic event leaves us with this sculpture that’s priceless,” Black said.

Though Black put together many pieces of the puzzle through her volunteer research, she feels there is more to the story and is currently seeking funding to be able to finish her research and publish her findings so others can learn the story of Trinity Church's special sculptures. Read story online here.
Good News Garden soon to grow at Grace, Newton thanks to evangelism grant: In spring seasons past at Grace Church in Newton , it wouldn’t be unusual to see members of the congregation outdoors tending to the gardens of the church on family work days or on special Sundays when the church school would go out to help in the gardens under the watchful eyes of the church’s garden team.
Grace Church member Paulette Fontaine scouts a sunny spot for raised beds to be built as part of a new community garden on church grounds. Courtesy photo
Though the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the congregation’s usual garden culture last year, it is making plans to be safely back in action this spring by joining the Episcopal Church’s Good News Garden movement with a community garden, thanks to a recently awarded $2,000 grant from the churchwide Episcopal Evangelism Grants Program.

Funds from the grant will be used to build some raised beds, buy a wheelbarrow, tools, seeds, tomato starts and other supplies needed to start a community garden. All of the produce that Grace Church grows in its garden will go directly to the Centre Street Food Pantry in Newton.
A garden seemed like a perfect project for this time of pandemic, Rowan Larson, the minister of Christian formation and parish administrator at Grace Church, said in a recent interview.

“We have this garden culture to start with, and we have a youth group that is really interested in direct service and outreach, and families who really want to have family-friendly service opportunities,” Larson said. “The future with COVID continues to be relatively uncertain, but because a garden is outdoors, it’s something that naturally lends itself to pretty good physical distancing and is something that people can volunteer and help with, but don’t all have to be there at the same time to do.”

With a community that’s hungry for connection and for tangible ways to be in service and to do outreach, Grace Church's hope is to plant the garden in the spring and have families or a few individuals from the congregation "adopt" a bed each week over the summer when they will check on it, make sure it’s watered and pick what’s ripe. In this way, different members of the congregation can all have some ownership in the care and the life of the garden, and have a chance to "get in the dirt with Jesus," so to speak.

“I think Jesus is in the dirt,” Larson said. “We are tending to our little corner of God’s creation in a way that lets us be stewards. We’re not trying to dominate our landscape. God told us to go out and till the soil and to be fruitful and to share, so that’s what we’re trying to do.

“The other reason I would say Jesus is in the soil with us is, Jesus was never one to walk away from getting his hands dirty. Jesus was always alongside the people that nobody wanted to touch. There’s something about coming into contact with things that society has deemed to be messy or dirty that’s really powerful, and it’s always a place where change can happen,” Larson said. Read full story here.
New “Easter boxing” activity invites seekers and offers connection: As a second Easter in the context of global pandemic approaches, worship services and activities will be different again this year. Though traditional egg hunts may not be taking place this Easter, congregations across the diocese are being invited to participate in a creative new activity called “Easter boxing.”

Laura Marshall, the director of religious education at All Saints’ Church in Chelmsford, originally brought the idea to a recent gathering of children's formation colleagues after being inspired by a geocaching activity that her congregation did this past summer.

“What I witnessed was that it worked really well for the pandemic because families could go out to a site and, in most cases, there was no one else around,” Marshall said in an interview. “It worked really well for being outdoors and being engaged in this time where you have to be careful how you engage so that everyone stays safe.”
Congregations that wish to participate are asked to decorate a wooden egg and hide it in an accessible place outside on the church property in a weather-safe box—along with a logbook and other items, such as Easter Scripture, stickers to take and information about the church. They are to write a clue to the location of their box and send it to Marshall, who will then post all of the clues on Easter Day on a central website she has created for the project. Over the course of the six weeks of Easter, congregations will maintain their boxes, and anyone can use the website to go around visiting churches and searching for eggs.
Image by Zauberei from Pixabay
Seekers are simply asked to follow basic rules to respect the sacred spaces they are visiting, and follow all COVID-19 protocols, including masks, physical distancing and hand sanitizing.

Marshall said she sees this activity as a creative and energizing way to engage people, especially children, with the Easter message of Jesus' resurrection, and to provide a model of “seeking” behavior that is part of the lifelong faith journey.

“One disservice I think we do to kids sometimes is we oversimplify the Easter message, and I think sometimes that’s out of a desire to protect them from the things that are complicated about Easter,” Marshall said. “I think one of the ways we can address that is by kind of emphasizing the mystery. It’s about wondering and searching; it’s not always about the answers. Maybe it seems a little cheesy, but to literally go and seek for something is important to do, to actively follow your faith. I think you can do that with kids by providing them real experiences of seeking." Read full story here.

For more information, or to sign up to participate, contact Laura Marshall at churchschool@allsaintschelmsford.org.
One of the wooden crosses at St. Barnabas's Church. Courtesy photo
Stations of the Cross: Through Good Friday, St. Barnabas's Church in Falmouth is inviting all to visit the outdoor Stations of the Cross that the church has set up with 14 simple crosses along walking paths and in its Chapel Garden. A brochure is available to use as a devotional guide as visitors stop at the 14 stations, and guests are invited to reflect upon the moments leading up to Jesus' crucifixion.

"The parish hopes the stations will help individuals keep Jesus as their focus this Lent and journey with him as he winds his way once again towards Jerusalem, Calvary and the cross," according to the church's news release.
Sign of the cross: Bishop Gayle E. Harris visited St. Anne’s Church in North Billerica on March 7 and joined Catechesis of the Good Shepherd leader Brenda Komarinski in making a video lesson for children about gestures used during worship, including the sign of the cross. How many times during a service does the bishop make the sign of the cross? In the video, the count gets lost somewhere around 11, but no matter. Each is “to remind myself that God is with me and I am here to serve God,” Harris says.
Screenshot from video lesson
“Finding the Way of the Cross in Nature”: In a recent post to the Virginia Theological Seminary’s Building Faith website, the Rev. Mia Kano, the assistant rector for youth and families at St. Andrew’s Church in Wellesley, shares guides for children and adults that she developed in the early days of the pandemic last spring to help them connect with Way of the Cross prayers and meditations while unable to gather or leave their home environs.

“These guides provide children and adults a way to discover that the story of Good Friday and the cross is written into the natural world about them if they only know where to look! ‘Stations’ are very common natural occurrences and not hard to spot–such as a flower or fallen log. The guide allows the experience of the stations to be self-directed and done at one’s own pace,” she writes. Read more and find the guides here.
MCC offers service for ministry leaders marking year of ministry under COVID: Recognizing how so many ministry leaders are always leading worship and rarely have the opportunity to pray without also leading, the board and staff of the Massachusetts Council of Churches (MCC) and leaders of its 18 member denominations statewide decided to mark one year of ministry under COVID with a service specifically for ministry leaders.

There is a Balm: A Service to Mark One Year of Ministry in COVID” will be offered on Friday, March 19 at noon and will draw on multiple Christian traditions. There will be homilies from MCC staff members, and contributions from guest musicians, including singer and songwriter Danny Rivera, and violinist and composer Miki-Sophia Cloud. Members of the community are welcome to join on Facebook and YouTube, with an optional Zoom coffee hour to follow.
Opening page of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul's newly created COVID-19 memorial book for remembrance of those who have died. Courtesy photo
Cathedral Church of St. Paul continues to honor those lost to COVID-19: The Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s COVID-19 memorial book is an effort to help make meaning of the many lives that COVID-19 has taken, and to give people a chance to begin healing. All are welcome to contribute names to be written in the book, and these names are included in the prayers during the cathedral church's weekly Friday Compline service.

“Compline feels right to me because it’s about acknowledging the end of the day and doing that with the promise of the dawn, with the promise of the new day,” McCreath said in a February story about the book. “It’s a good time to sort of tally and feel our feelings of loss, but then also to do that as Christians who anticipate the dawn.”

Names may be submitted for the cathedral’s COVID-19 memorial book by e-mailing them to cathedral@diomass.org.
"The Human Journey Towards New Life in Freedom": The Ministry of Immigration Partnership convened through the Office of the Canon for Immigration and Multicultural Ministries, together with the diocesan Racial Justice Commission, invite everyone to join virtually with Bishop Gayle E. Harris for a multicultural celebration of Passover and Easter, on Saturday, March 27 at 5 p.m.
Register in advance here to receive the online link. Questions may be directed to the Rev. Canon Dr. Jean Baptiste Ntagengwa, Canon for Immigration and Multicultural Ministries, (jbntagengwa@diomass.org or 617-482-4826, ext. 400).
Diocese of New York’s Absalom Jones celebration highlights parallels between his time and ours: [Episcopal News Service]—The Diocese of New York held a celebratory virtual service on Feb. 20 as part of its ongoing commemoration of Absalom Jones, the first Black priest in The Episcopal Church, whose feast day is Feb. 13. The service featured performances of music and poetry and remarks from Vice President of the House of Deputies Byron Rushing and New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche.
“We Episcopalians are privileged to have in our calendar Absalom Jones, a great Christian born into slavery that we can remember,” Rushing said. “This recognition is a gift to the church from Black Episcopalians who did not ignore the life of this founder of the first independent congregation of Africans in The Episcopal Church.”

With a nod to recent debates about the way slavery and systemic racism have been presented in American history, Rushing said the celebration of Jones offers an opportunity to understand the full reality of race in America through a personal narrative.

“Our original story as Americans cannot be accurately told without telling the story of slavery,” he said. “We can learn about enslavement and emancipation and liberation not only in general academic terms, but in the actual lives and experiences of men and women, girls and boys of African descent–stories like this.”

The Diocese of New York’s mutual aid project honors Jones’s charitable work with the Free African Society, which included extraordinary efforts to care for the sick and dying during the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. Jones and others nursed the sick, removed corpses, dug graves and buried the dead. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, the New York diocese is encouraging congregations to work with local nonprofits to meet their specific needs, raising funds to buy supplies in bulk.

Such work does not undo the centuries of pain that people of color have experienced in America–Rushing noted that “it will not be until 2111 that people of African descent will have been free as long as they have been enslaved in the United States”–but it is the work that Christians are called to do, especially in the midst of the crises America faces, Rushing said.

“The resurrection did not erase the crucifixion,” he said. “The power of death was overcome, but it was not made like it never happened. God gives us good news because there is bad news.” Read the full story here.
Webinars support practice of “Conversations Across Difference”: A series of webinars is underway to support people in practicing how to have conversations across difference. The Episcopal Church launched the “From Many, One” campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 18 as an invitation to Episcopalians and their families, friends and neighbors to engage in the spiritual practice of listening and honest conversation across the many differences that may be a cause for division, starting with four simple questions: What do you love? What have you lost? Where does it hurt? What do you dream? Find the webinar sign-up and more information at https://episcopalchurch.org/from-many-one.
BID Business Profiles: The Very Rev. Amy McCreath: As a college student, Amy McCreath studied politics and Russian studies with thoughts of working to help end the Cold War through a career in the State Department. But her concept of how she might best serve others changed when she became absorbed in learning about another intractable problem of the 1980s: apartheid in South Africa. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu’s efforts to create a just society in his nation inspired McCreath to enter the Episcopal priesthood.

So McCreath entered the Episcopal seminary and, following leadership roles at the parish and diocesan levels and a posting as Episcopal Chaplain at MIT, the Very Rev. Amy McCreath was named dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in 2018.

The cathedral always has preached justice and been involved in activism, but last year, as it celebrated the 200th anniversary of its founding as a parish, St. Paul’s began interrogating its own history and how it creates community, says McCreath. The cathedral adopted a strategic plan that commits it to becoming an antiracist institution while also addressing other areas of its mission. Read more here.
Photo courtesy of Epiphany School on Facebook
Boston Globe: Epiphany school celebrates Rep. John Lewis with new mural: The last three months have been busy for artist and teacher Ryan Jones. During the day, he’d teach reading and writing at Epiphany, an independent school based in Dorchester for children from economically disadvantaged families. At night, he was busy painting.

“This was my first mural,” Jones said. “The timing was right, so I thought I’d take a chance.”

The mural, installed on a building within the Epiphany school grounds, depicts late civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis, watching over protesters as they cross the Zakim Memorial Bridge. Jones was inspired by Lewis’s march from Selma to Montgomery over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Read more here.
Coming Up 
Mar 18: Cathedral Lenten Preaching Series, via Zoom: Kate Bast, 12:00pm

Mar 18: Diocesan Council Meeting via Zoom, 6:00pm

Mar 19: Massachusetts Council of Churches "There is a Balm: A Service to Mark One Year of Ministry in COVID," 12:00pm

Mar 20: Youth Retreat with Bishop Harris, 2:00pm

Mar 21: Bishop Gates visits Grace Church in Newton

Mar 21: Bishop Harris visits St. John's Church in Westwood

Mar 21: "Love and Lamentation for Creation" Series, 3:00pm

Mar 23: Finance Forum for Congregational Leaders via Zoom, 5:30pm

Mar 24: Clergy Lenten Devotions with Bishop Gates: Southern Region, 5:00pm

Mar 25: Practical Aspects of Congregational Leadership: Parochial Reports (Non-Financial Portion), 9:00am

Mar 25: Cathedral Lenten Preaching Series via Zoom: Sujin Pak, 12:00pm

Mar 26: Clergy Lenten Devotions with Bishop Gates: Central Region, 9:00am

Mar 26: Clergy Lenten Devotions with Bishop Gates: Northern and Western Region, 5:00pm

Mar 27: Practical Aspects of Congregational Leadership: Parochial Reports (Non-Financial Portion), 9:00am

Mar 27: "Human Journey Towards New Life in Freedom" Multicultural Celebration of Passover and Easter, 5:00pm

Mar 28: Bishop Gates visits St. Elizabeth's Church in Sudbury

Mar 28: "Love and Lamentation for Creation" Series, 3:00pm

Mar 30: Holy Tuesday Morning Gathering with Renewal of Ordination Vows via Zoom, 11:00am

Mar 30: Holy Tuesday Evening Gathering with Renewal of Ordination Vows via Zoom, 5:30pm

Apr 1: Youth Ministry Online Gathering, 3:00pm

Apr 8: Children's Formation Online Gathering, 3:30pm

Apr 10: Clergy Professional Development Day Part I, 9:30am

Apr 11: Bishop Harris visits Christ Church in Plymouth

Apr 11: Bishop Gates visits the Church of Our Redeemer in Lexington

Apr 15: Diocesan Council Meeting via Zoom, 6:00pm

Apr 17: Clergy Professional Development Day Part II, 9:30am

Apr 18: Bishop Gates visits the Church of the Good Shepherd in Reading

Apr 18: Bishop Harris visits the Church of the Good Shepherd in Wareham

Apr 22: Children's Formation Online Gathering, 3:30pm

Apr 24: Diocesan Altar Guild Annual Meeting, livestream from Christ Church, Plymouth, 10:00am

Apr 25: Bishop Gates visits Christ Church in Waltham

Apr 27: Finance Forum for Congregational Leaders, 5:30pm

Apr 28: Practical Aspects of Congregational Leadership: Congregational Audits, 9:00am
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