A Call to Watch and Pray

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Dear saints,

I pray that you and yours are well this Juneteenth. I have been asking us to watch and pray. I now call upon you to do so by considering a diocesan wide sacramental journey to engage our baptismal identity as a Eucharistic community. Let me describe this call first and then explain why. This is not a command, but a humble request from your brother, friend, Bishop, father of two young men of color, a fellow citizen and servant in Christ.

I would like us to become a learning community as a diocese over these next several months and take stock when we gather for the Absalom Jones Celebration on Feb 6, 2021 at Two Saints. I invite us to learn (study) one book together, practice (encounter) as a longer-term goal, and reflect on the sin of racism over these months. I have asked the Sacramental group of our Task Force and our Racial Reconciliation Healing and Justice group to guide us with resources such as norms for study.

  • For our study together, I recommend Unsettling Truths by Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah.
  • For our relational encounter, which is a long-term goal, I suggest making room to reach out to a person/family of color in your orbit if you don’t already have friends. In the spirit of the African American spiritual, “Let us break bread together on our knees.” Let us get to know each other with the assurance that the Holy Spirit guides our discussions and strengthens bonds of affection that will lead to deeper understanding as a human family. This is Eucharist in real time!
  • For our reflection on the lessons from these engagements, let us approach it not as scientists but as lovers of God curious to recognize the image of God in one another.

Study, encounter, reflect, repeat is a healthy leadership cycle. This is a way to be Eucharist in the world. When we are vulnerable, reveal our brokenness, unlearn and learn while we also guard the circle of trust, we are at the very heart of Eucharistic practice. Let me explain why many diocesan leaders want us as a Diocese to make this prophetic witness now.

Nothing can be changed until it is faced. –James Baldwin

In this historic moment, we witnessed the inhumane deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. We are witnessing the largest rainbow coalition of young people taking it to the streets. As we stand on the threshold of Father’s Day, a clear possibility of the Dream Act, our 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, and our 244th anniversary of Independence, I invite us to embrace a spiritual path for engaging the sin of discrimination, and its many manifestations.

We are currently dealing with the effects of the multiple pandemics of COVID-19 and racism in our nation. Racism is the systematic sin of discrimination that has infected our nation’s cultural norms for centuries. Sin separates us from the Love of God in Christ. This separation is made manifest in our divisiveness toward each other. The myth of race and the sin of racism affects our hearts and the way we “think” when we are not thinking, since unconscious bias is real. It is a system of knowing, not as we are known by God, but a knowing that runs counter to the wisdom of the love Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians: “... there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

This is hard for me to say and I do so with love and affection. I realize that some of our nation’s founding documents and methodologies inscribed a course that ran counter to Jesus’ way of love. Instead of grace and humility, I found a preference for domination and hierarchy in our original story.

"At the heart of our constitution and in the worldview of the original framers, there is not a comprehensive value for life or a true belief in equality. Instead, there is the persistent practice of marginalization and dehumanization. The prevailing value tends toward the exploitation of the marginalized and profit for the dominant" (Unsettling Truths, Chapter 6, page 94).

Our story of origin is also shrouded in concepts of faith such as pilgrim, manifestation and destiny. This is problematic for us as church and why we need a change of heart—the metanoia of the Gospel—to overcome this virus and mend our ways from principalities and powers that have infected our hearts and minds to live the lie that some people are less valued than others. This moment in history is our opportunity to face the disease of racism with the transforming power of cruciform love.

Unfortunately, there just isn’t a painless way. The way to recover from this sickness is to face it, deal with it and not walk away from it until each of us has a spiritual path to move forward by valuing every person’s humanity. In our current context, cherishing the lives of people of color and law enforcement, which are often one and the same in parts of our society, is how we respect the dignity of all people. We believe we are all made in the image of God. However, we have to face the fact that Black, Native and Hispanic communities have often been treated as inferior and therefore infantilized or terrorized. Is there a way forward? Yes! We can turn from the sin of racism to our true humanity in Christ by rebalancing and correcting our ways. We can learn to treat all people as fully human. That is what our Baptismal Covenant calls us to do. Therefore, let us repent, lament, and ask God to create a new heart in each of us. Let us be transformed into a sustainable balm—an antibiotic or vaccine—to our nation’s sick body. By doing this spiritual heart work, our country will gain moral credibility locally and around the world. A change of heart is foundational to any legislative, judicial, economic and other changes.

My beloved siblings and saints, as we find our way to recovery from COVID-19 and racism, I ask that we continue to watch and pray. When we act by praying, we change. When we change, we act by loving. When we act by loving, we transform unjust systems, and God smiles! Every once in a while, we get a window of Kairos—an opening into God’s timing and purpose, when we can do the work necessary to set things right with God. This is such a moment. Let the vision of Amos come to fruition. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24). Let us, with our hearts, hands, and feet answer the prophet Micah’s call to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). Beloved, let us face racism and change for good.

I invite you to sign this "petition"—this call to Watch and Pray, committing yourself to study together, to relational encounters, and to reflect on what it means to be a people of reconciliation, healing and justice. Let us each do our part in this wondrous land, so that we can all be truly interdependent and truly free!

With affection,

+Prince Singh
Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester