Circle of Clergy

Fort Worth clergy grateful for peaceful city in wake of historic trial result.

“My first response was one of gratitude, gratitude that, despite tension and anxiety, this city received the verdict peacefully, expressing any dismay or disappointment responsibly. I am grateful for the prayers upholding both families, and for the steadfast courage of the jurors,” said the Rev. Karen Calafat, rector of St. Luke’s Fort Worth and dean of the Fort Worth Convocation, in the wake of the Aaron Dean trial.

Calafat is a member of the Circle of Clergy (COC), an interfaith collaboration among diverse Fort Worth faith communities “to enter and actively engage in the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusivity, and justice.” She spoke in the wake of the trial that convicted former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean for the killing of Atatiana Jefferson in her home on October 12, 2019. Jefferson was at home alone with her then-8-year-old nephew, Zion. Zion is now 11.

Dean was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years, ten months, and 12 days. The seemingly odd specificity of the sentence reflected Zion’s current age, and the date Jefferson was killed – October 12.

Calafat said, “There is still much work to be done here in addressing the ongoing racial inequities in our city and county as well as repairing the trust between the Black community and the police. I am grateful that the relationships built during the last three years give us a solid foundation from which to continue our work.”

The trial took place amid much tension and anxiety, as three years of waiting for accountability came down to a courtroom filled with the friends and family and allies of Atatiana Jefferson on one side, and the friends and family and allies of Dean on the other. Dean was accused of murdering Jefferson as she stood at a window in her home, having taken her gun out of her purse before trying to see who was in her backyard. She was alone in the house with her 8-year-old nephew, and Dean had never announced his presence as a police officer.

The tension peaked in the courtroom, and indeed across the city, when it was announced that the jury had reached a verdict. It felt as if the whole city waited as the jury filed into the courtroom. The judge asked for their verdict, and the reply was guilty of manslaughter. Not murder.

Reactions were quick, and complicated. Those who had feared Dean would be exonerated were relieved at a conviction, but deeply worried that a manslaughter verdict might lead to his being put on probation. Those hoping Dean would be exonerated were devastated but praying for probation.

In the midst of these varied reactions, one fact stood out. It was an historic verdict — Dean is the first on-duty police officer in Tarrant County convicted of killing someone.

Then began the penalty stage of the trial. Dean could get anywhere from two to 20 years, with the possibility of probation if they sentenced him to 10 years or less. Victim impact statements were given by family members on both sides. Then the jury retired again, and again the city waited. When the sentence of 11 years, 10 months and 12 days was announced, there were again complicated reactions. But for the most part, people were pleased Dean was not given probation.

The Rev. Dr. Janet Waggoner, Canon Missioner for Congregational Vitality, said, “The decision of the jury to find Dean, an on-duty police officer, guilty of manslaughter, is the first conviction of its kind in Tarrant County. It is also, we pray, just a beginning of justice in this case, as well as the beginning of deeper, long-awaited racial justice in our community.”

Through the entire three-year journey to that courtroom, white Episcopal clergy have been among those allied with Black pastors in an organization called the Circle of Clergy (COC), with the goal of bridging the racial divides in the city and keeping peace in the city, regardless of the outcome.

They held two prayer vigils during the trial, supported the Jefferson-Carr family by providing pastoral care, transport, and other practical support, and by raising funds for their expenses. Calafat and Waggoner are among the Episcopal clergy in the COC.

The trial finally started in late November with jury selection, after three years of defense-initiated delays. No Black jurors were selected. The judge declined a defense request for a change of venue and the testimony phase of the trial began December 5.

As the date for Dean’s trial was postponed again and again, members of local Black clergy became increasingly concerned about the racial and economic divides in the city that were being brought into sharp focus. They were joined in this concern by white clergy members, including Episcopal clergy, who wanted to be supportive allies.

The result was the Circle of Clergy (COC), an interfaith collaboration among diverse Fort Worth faith communities “to enter and actively engage in the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusivity, and justice.”

Over the past few months, the COC has worked steadily on relevant racial justice issues in the North Region area, including Critical Race Theory (CRT), voting rights, the Dean trial, and various other occurrences. For example, they offered A Faith Perspective on CRT – What it is, and what it is not, an educational forum on understanding CRT with guest speaker Dr. Altheria Caldera, Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Howard University School of Education. They also met with the Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent search team to voice their perspectives and expectations for the next superintendent.

During the trial of Dean, the Circle of Clergy called on all people of Fort Worth to stand together on the need for racial justice and unity during this stressful time.

They explain who they are and why they came together in this video.

They have invited other faith/spiritual leader of in the community to join their regular Circle of Clergy meetings and events to become a valuable collaborator and contributor to our efforts.

They can be contacted at

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