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Apr 11, 2011

Presiding Bishops Leads Repentance Service for Racism, Slavery

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori celebrated and preached at a Service of Repentance, Healing and Reconciliation April 9 at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Asheville, marking the end of a two-year period of study and conversation on the sin of racism in the Diocese of Western North Carolina.


More than 500 people attended the service, during which Western North Carolina Bishop G. Porter Taylor acknowledged the church's participation in slavery and the long oppression of Afro-American people. Taylor formally apologized for these sins and asked for forgiveness.


The two-hour-and-twenty minute service was sponsored by the diocese's Commission to Dismantle Racism.


A massed choir, composed of singers from Trinity, St. Matthias and the Cathedral of All Souls, provided a program of music, while members of the congregation were offered the opportunity to receive an anointing of holy oil and a blessing from clergy and lay ministers, black and white.


The processional banner, chasuble and stoles used in the service are visual representations of the healing and reconciliation the service was aiming for.


On behalf of the diocese, Canon Osondu McPeters presented the presiding bishop with a college of words -- feelings originally expressed by people in the diocese after viewing the film "Traces of the Trade," a film that tells the story of the DeWolf family, the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history and also a prominent part of the Episcopal Church in Rhode Island. James DeWolf Perry was the 18th presiding bishop.


"Human beings are capable of the most wretched behavior – as the old confession put it, 'there is no health in us,'" said Jefferts Schori during her sermon. "Yet through human prophets God continues to call us to turn in a new direction, toward healing, wholeness, and holiness of life. In the wider world, we call that justice. Some have said that justice is simply love in public action. Justice is what Isaiah is talking about when he says, feed the hungry, house the homeless, cover the naked, emancipate the slaves, and redeem prisoners. Jesus reads from the same prophet when he claims anointing to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom to slaves and prisoners, and to proclaim the year of God's favor.


"We're here this morning because we know something about the consequences of having 'no health in us,'" she added. "We're here to turn away from the prison pipeline, and the multi-generational consequences of poverty, and the great gaps between current reality and our national aspirations for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – for all God's children. There is an enormous breach in that promise. We have not yet found the year of the Lord's favor." [The full text of the sermon is availalehere.]


General Convention 2006 passed several resolutions on the subject of the church's complicity in slavery as well as other forms of exploitation and abuse of non-white peoples. The resolutions called on dioceses to explore the history of slavery and its aftermath and to find ways to seek reconciliation and healing.