Reparative Work: Enriching our Worship

Cathedral Church of St. Luke

Last Sunday’s sermon and the lead Opinion Page article in the last Maine Sunday Telegram both addressed the history of Portland and the relationship of Maine to the slave trade.  The bottom line is that the money trail is as clear as the triangular trade. Though our ancestors may not have owned slaves, we – especially those in New England – all benefited from slave labor. In these more modern times, we have stood idly by while mass incarceration (slavery by another name) and other horrors are being practiced on our watch. Speaking of trade, we – especially those in New England – also benefited from colonialism and continue to benefit from the corporate colonialism that continues today. Have you ever thought where the diamond on your finger, the rare-earth metal in your cell phone, the banana in your lunch, or the cheap stuff in the dollar store comes from… or what politics or human rights were ignored so our shelves could be filled and small countries could be used as pawns for geopolitical gain? To put it differently, have you ever recognized your role in creating the conditions in the Sudan, the Congo, El Salvador, or other places which forced the asylum seekers to come here to seek a better life? 

In the confession from Enriching our Worship, we confess the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf. Like the Territorial Acknowledgment, this starts the conversion but doesn’t go quite far enough. More than just recognition and repentance, some sort of reparation – repairing of relationships – is needed.  Last week Dr. Catherine Meeks of the Absalom Jones Center suggested that given this past, reconciliation might not be possible. With all due respect, I disagree. Our whole Christian faith is built on the idea of reconciliation. Our mission statement – and that of the Episcopal Church – is to restore all people in unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ. To give up before we even start is to lack faith in the forgiving, healing and reconciling love of God which we proclaim. 

You could argue that St Luke’s is doing a lot.  In the past two years a huge percentage of the work of our Canon Pastor and Christian Ed director has been focused on anti-racism work. During this time more St. Luke’s have been involved in Sacred Ground, Becoming Beloved Community, Book Groups and other anti-racism work than any other area. The diversity of the neighbors we serve in our pantries continues to increase and our Sunday school rooms overflow with food, coats, boots and things to give away. Unfortunately, in all this there is still a flavor of doing this “for them” – assuming that we are here to help and are part of the solution, not part of the problem that created this need in the first place.

What would it be like if we used reconciliation as a lens for what we do? Imagine, for example, if we saw our work with descendants of slaves in our school in Haiti and with the victims of colonialism who have fled for their lives to get here as reparative work, not just as helping those in need, but also recognizing and repenting for what we have done and repaying a small portion of what we have benefited from them.  The word “repent” means to turn around. Perhaps if we can see things through a different lens, the past might not have to predict the future and reconciliation may be possible after all.