Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Minneapolis
The Very Rev. Paul J. Lebens-Englund, Dean
Dear Saint Markans,
I’m just returning from the 80th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD, where it was impossible to ignore the winds of change blowing among us and around us. Despite very real and persistent challenges, both internal and external, I left General Convention hopeful and energized for the work ahead, all of which Saint Mark’s is poised to engage directly and effectively. You can hear my concluding reflection and find links to three important General Convention sermons here.
As with every General Convention, a key subtext of our work is the need to organize the life we share among us to most positively affect the life of the world around us. The legislation, budget priorities, and public statements that come out of General Convention are not immaterial, but are essential to shaping our vision, principles, and practices – and maybe even our goals, strategies, and tactics – as People of The Way (of Jesus, of Love).
A centerpiece of GC80 legislative action is resolution A125, which creates the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice to network, coordinate, and support racial equity and justice work across The Episcopal Church. The resolution opens with a clear call to every disciple of Jesus: “[T]he 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirms that striving to become the Beloved Community of Jesus is central to our baptismal vocation in God’s mission, and every Episcopalian is called to a lifelong vocation of racial justice and equity and the dismantling of white supremacy.”
We are now two years into this deliberate work at Saint Mark’s. With our own racial audit in hand, with our own Racial Justice & Healing team in place, with our own education and small groups underway, we are now poised to more deeply and honestly explore our own history, to begin exploring our own internal policies and practices, and to begin shaping our own budget and other financial commitments through a racial justice lens – the goal of which is to build Beloved Community right here at Saint Mark’s, not in thought and word only, but in deed, as well.
The following updates to Saint Mark’s community engagement efforts aim to embed us more deeply in relationships across difference, which is the only context within which meaningful change and transformation takes place. Our goal is to narrow and to deepen our community engagement work in order to better focus on racial equity, justice, and healing. Those partnerships that are largely fiduciary in nature will be directed to the Wells Foundation, the mission granting arm of Saint Mark’s presence in the community. Those cohorts of shared interest and passion (e.g. climate justice, gun violence prevention, etc) will be directed to identified lay leadership, who will organize, equip, communicate, and deploy group members for public-facing witness and advocacy. While the staff and clergy will support the work of these two previous categories (funding and organizing), we will commit particular focus at Saint Mark’s to the Racial Justice and Equity work to which we’re all called in resolution A125. This is an expression of our commitment to allocate our time, talent, and treasure to this long-deferred work of Truth-telling and racial reckoning. Nothing less will advance the cause.
Community Engagement 2.0
The murder of George Floyd in May 2020 strengthened Saint Mark’s resolve to reckon honestly with our own racial histories, biases, and behaviors. Taking up the Presiding Bishop’s charge to Build Beloved Community, we followed suit with The Episcopal Church and conducted our own internal racial audit late in 2020. That racial audit precipitated the formation of Saint Mark’s Racial Justice & Healing Team, which will continue to serve as lead of Saint Mark’s racial justice work.
During the 2021-2022 program year, 30+ Saint Markans participated in the year-long Interfaith ACTION program and 50+ Saint Markans participated in two introductory Zoom series on race and racism. In addition to high praise for the leadership and content of each program, there was also a consistently stated desire not merely to discuss ‘difference,’ but to engage ‘difference’ more directly – actually building Beloved Community while learning about Beloved Community.
To begin moving this direction with more intention, your Dean and Council have agreed to invest our Community Engagement dollars in two new initiatives that will have Saint Markans learning and serving more closely along lines of difference.
First, Saint Mark’s will contract with a part-time Social Worker who will define and coordinate our efforts to support student success at Minneapolis College and the Dunwoody Institute. Building on our current commitment to provide student scholarships through the Dean’s Annual Christmas Appeal, we will broaden our efforts to ensure every student who begins their studies at these two great schools also has the resources necessary to complete that education – addressing financial security, food security, housing security, and both social and professional networking. Every Saint Markan will be able to identify a concrete way they’re supporting student success.
Second, Saint Mark’s will partner with the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (ECMN) and The Episcopal Church (TEC) to plant a new Spanish-speaking worship community here at the Cathedral. The Latino community is growing in Minnesota, and we want to be in a life-giving and mutually-enriching relationship with them. The Rev. Neptali Rodriguez, who has a proven track record planting Spanish-speaking faith communities in the Twin Cities, will begin this part-time work on August 1st and aim to launch his first San Marcos worship service on Saturday, September 10th. Your Dean joined Father Neptali for a 20-hour Latino Ministries competency course last month, and we’ve been in regular communication with Bishop Loya and with Canon Anthony Guillen (on the PB’s staff), soliciting their support and guidance. While we’ve learned a lot during this early phase of discernment, our biggest take-away is that there’s no playbook for this kind of endeavor. It will demand the very best of us, asking us to take some risks, to try new things, to fail boldly, and to act faithfully and creatively for the sake of becoming Beloved Community, knowing at a very deep level that ‘the work is the witness.’ Please hold this important new initiative in your prayers and stay tuned for ways to connect and support.
Lastly, Saint Mark’s will invest the balance of budgeted Community Engagement 2.0 dollars into two key partnerships to assist with the on-going development and direction of our racial justice efforts, guided by Saint Mark’s Racial Justice & Healing Team. First, $5,000 will go toward our continued commitment to the ACTION program, which has been picked up as a statewide racial justice formation initiative through the Minnesota Council of Churches – $3,500 directly to MCC to support the program and $1,500 for partial Saint Mark’s participant scholarships. And second, $5,000 will be set aside for continued contract consulting with the Mission Institute, which conducted our initial racial justice audit in 2020.
In summary, while Saint Mark’s will continue to invest in ‘program’ that informs and reflects on our racial justice and equity work, we’re making a concrete decision to invest ourselves more fully in direct relationships across lines of difference, better ensuring the work is not merely theoretical, but personal, material – one might even say ‘incarnational.’
Please join me in praying for these important and exciting new initiatives.
Almighty God, who created us in your own image:
Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our congregations and in our communities, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Grace & Peace,