Anglicanism and Social Justice: Chaplaincy and Building a Movement in Poor Communities with the Rev. Cedar Monroe
By Nick Gordon, UTO Intern
Over the course of the fall, I had the opportunity to take part in Union Theological Seminary’s Anglicanism and Social Justice pilot program as a part of my UTO internship. The program is structured around monthly (or so) meetings of the current cohort to focus on specific social justice issues in their relation to our Anglican theological tradition. One of the beautiful parts of this program is that it has participants from around the Anglican Communion at different levels of conventional education and from all different orders of ministry. The small group discussions that take place are so rich due to the diversity of experiences participants bring to the table.
November’s intensive/retreat program was entitled, “Chaplaincy and Building a Movement in Poor Communities” and was led by the Rev. Cedar Monroe, who co-founded Chaplains on the Harbor, an Episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Olympia who serves the low-income people of Gray Harbor County of Washington state. The scope of their chaplaincy work is vast and was amazing to learn about as it serves as a good model for chaplaincy that aims to specifically serve poor communities.
One of things I appreciated most about Rev. Cedar’s presentations and moderation of the weekend was their focus on the local context in which they served. Poverty is such a large and deeply entrenched issue that can often feel overwhelming. Instead of attempting to minister to poverty nationally, globally, or even on a statewide level, Rev. Cedar focused on the needs of the many people experiencing poverty within their local context. That localized focus helps Rev. Cedar advocate on a national level as a partner with the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival by focusing on the lived experience of those who are a part of the Chaplains on the Harbor ministry.
A major part of the conversation throughout the weekend was burnout. One of the biggest takeaways I have from the weekend is understanding that chaplaincy (and arguably a lot of ministry in general) is not necessarily about fixing or trying to solve the problems of those you serve, but rather walking with them in their struggles. Because of this, the work of chaplaincy, especially in poor communities, can become all-encompassing as the systemic pressures working against those who are experiencing poverty are so heavy and seem insurmountable.
As I reflect on learning from Rev. Cedar and others about what chaplaincy to those experiencing poverty looks like, I feel more empowered to engage in social justice ministry—with the understanding that the work of social justice is a long marathon and not something we will see the totality of in our lifetimes. In these dark days large systems of oppression can seem insurmountable, but be reminded that there is a great cloud of witnesses, both here on earth and in heaven, that can attest to how far we have come and how far we have to go. Keep focused on the work ahead of us. As our presiding bishop has said in many sermons, quoting an old spiritual, “Keep your eyes on the prize. Hold on, hold on.” Prioritizing self-care and taking moments to breathe are crucial amid this long-haul, exhausting, and vital work.