Lenten Series: Engaging the Beloved Community
"The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke those words in a 1957 speech, Birth of a New Nation. The tenets of nonviolence that King espoused are the basis for envisioning and building the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community, King believed, is a tangible state of community in which there is no hunger, racism, or oppression. Because each person is equally valued, nonviolence is the answer to conflict, and justice reigns. Reaching the Beloved Community requires difficult and long-term community work rooted in love and justice. Today, as our world watches the children of Flint suffer from lead in their water supply and young people of color cry out for justice in their streets, people of faith above all are called to reengage the holy work of building the Beloved Community. Last summer, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church voted to prioritize evangelism and racial reconciliation by allocating significant funds to that work in our Church’s budget. By funding these dual priorities, The Episcopal Church signified to the world that it is ready to fully engage the work of racial reconciliation and justice. As we enter the holy season of Lent on this Ash Wednesday, we invite you to turn in a new direction toward reconciliation, and walk with us as we explore what it means for The Episcopal Church to build the Beloved Community.
This work requires sacred listening, an act that goes beyond simply hearing a voice tell a story. Sacred listening requires one to deeply ingest the meaning of another’s words and then engage with the truth that has been shared. This kind of listening makes way for justice work. As Charles Wynder Jr, the Missioner for Social Justice and Advocacy Engagement for The Episcopal Church, reminds us, “In order to have reconciliation there has to be justice making.” During each week of this Lenten season, we will share a reflection that focuses on a different way the spirit of reconciliation and racial justice is moving in The Episcopal Church. Through video, essay, and voice recording, these reflections will showcase refugee ministry, a young adult Pilgrimage to Ferguson, advocacy around criminal justice reform, and hopes for reconciliation from Episcopal voices building the Beloved Community. Each reflection is a sacred invitation to you, and we hope that you will take time to reflect on each piece and ask where God is calling you to take part. Ask how you, your parish, and wider community are participating in sacred listening and how this holy act can make way for justice.
First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean Matthew 23:26
Following the Church’s prioritization of racial reconciliation at last summer’s General Convention, we have much work ahead of us as individuals and a community of faith. In a reflection written after Michael Brown’s death in 2014, Dr. Anita Parrott George of the Diocese of Mississippi, recalled Matthew 23:26, “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” She wrote, “And so, Christians, I believe that we must think deeply, talk openly, pray humbly and join hands to stand with each other as we give thanks for the gifts that allow us to be introspective even as we analyze the disturbing events all around us.”
Indeed, as The Episcopal Church discerns its place in the building of the Beloved Community, we must remember to clean the inside of the cup first. This series will highlight Episcopalians from all corners of the Church who are actively asking how they can take part in reconciliation and justice in the Church and in our world. Young adults in particular are speaking out with passion about the Beloved Community, and their hopes and dreams for our Church will sustain and empower us for years to come. We invite you to listen to their dreams and to look closely at your own dreams and challenges as you clean the inside of the cup and engage with the Beloved Community.
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:1-3
After introspection and internal development, the path to Beloved Community leads to justice-making, and the lifting up of all persons, including the refugee, the prisoner, and the oppressed. In this series, we will feature three examples of how Episcopalians are engaging in justice and reconciliation work with an eye on the Beloved Community. The first example is Episcopal Migration Ministries, the refugee resettlement program of The Episcopal Church. Episcopal Migration Ministries models holy welcome to all people by receiving and providing vital services to over 5,000 refugees of varying faiths and nationalities to the United States each year. The work of Episcopal Migration Ministries centers on Jesus’ teachings of welcoming the stranger and advocating for a just world in which all people are safe from danger and persecution.
A second example of Beloved Community-building is current advocacy work around reforming our discriminatory and overly punitive U.S. criminal justice system. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated in his lifetime compared to one in six Latino males and one in 17 white males. This year, Congress is working on passing bipartisan legislation that would implement much-needed reforms to the criminal justice system. In this series, we will investigate the unjust criminal system, and offer ways for followers of Jesus to advocate for reforms.
In our final series post, you will hear the stories of young adults who participated in a Pilgrimage to Ferguson last October. The pilgrimage was set in Ferguson because the spirit of protest and holy community building that emerged in the wake of Michael Brown’s death has transformed our nation, and has beckoned our Church into a new space of sacred listening and action. We must acknowledge #BlackLivesMatter as an essential declarative statement, but also as an invitation to all people to work toward the individual change and community engagement that embodies King’s vision of the Beloved Community. Twenty-five young adults participated in a Pilgrimage to Ferguson hosted by The Episcopal Church, the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the Diocese of Missouri on October 2015. This pilgrimage was a spiritual journey that allowed young adults in our church to more closely investigate and engage the realities of racism in our world and their own communities. By engaging in the work of Episcopal Migration Ministries, criminal justice reform, and holy pilgrimage, we are embodying our baptismal covenant to strive for justice and respect the dignity of all human beings.
These examples of Beloved Community-building you will see in this series remind us that we are not alone in the work of racial justice and reconciliation because Jesus is with us in that work. On January 21, 2016, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered a sermon at Trinity Institute (an annual theological conference hosted by Trinity Wall Street) that focused on Chapter 8 of the Gospel according to Matthew, the story of the centurion’s servant. In the sermon, he declared that God sent Jesus to model how we might transform the world by reconciliation and redemption. He said “[Jesus] came for a world where the human family would stop fighting and destroying one another, but would find a way to live in justice, compassion, and peace. [Jesus] came to help God realize the Kingdom. [Jesus] came for the Beloved Community.” This Lent, as we are invited to study and grow, may we remember that God is calling us into the sacred work of reconciliation so that we may transform our world into the Beloved Community, the glorious Kingdom of God.