Repenting Slavery

Lost in all of the news about the deposition of Bishop Bennison and the actions of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was a rather important event in the history of the Episcopal Church. Yesterday more than 500 worshippers from across the nation, including over 12 Bishops, took part in a service of public atonement for the Episcopal Church’s silence about slavery:

The “Day of Repentance” started in silence.

More than a dozen Episcopal bishops from around the country yesterday morning slowly walked down the aisle of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in West Philadelphia.

There were no trumpets, no organ, only the sounding of a lone gong.

From the start, this service would be like no other in the history of the two-million-member denomination.

The bishops led more than 500 worshipers in a day of public atonement for the silence of the official church during slavery, segregation and racism over the centuries.

The service began with an unflinching look at the church’s past.

People heard how church members in the Continental Congress permitted slaves to be counted merely as three-fifths of a person.

How the Episcopal Church often disallowed African Americans from entering churches to worship.

How the church kept black members from being ordained as priests and, even today, often sends African American priests to depressed or resource-barren areas.

And with this litany, the worshipers responded, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But what started solemnly at St. Thomas, the nation’s oldest black Episcopal church, ended after more than an hour later with a joyful blast of music. With trumpets and organ, people sang out the words of a spiritual often sung during the civil-rights era: “Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me.”

Read it all here.

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