[Episcopal News Service]
Renewed relationships were in focus August 4 as more than 300 black Episcopalians, gathered in Richmond, Virginia, concluded the five-day, 38th annual meeting and conference of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE.)
Under the theme "Practicing Our Faith: Strengthening our Relationships with God and Each Other," participants are reaffirming their Afro-Anglican connections, conducting business, receiving training, and sharing information.
"We come together once every year to re-identify with ourselves," the Rev. Nelson W. Pinder, national president of UBE said. "It is a chance to get in touch with our African descent and verify that we are truly members of the Anglican Communion who work and live in the Episcopal Church."
"This is one of our largest turnouts in several years," the Rev. Alonzo Pruitt, rector of St. Philip's Church, Richmond, Virginia, and conference co-dean said of the gathering, held at the Omni Richmond Hotel.
The conference launched a new UBE-Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) partnership that will assist, enable and empower UBE to develop financial, informational and leadership resources for its mission and ministry. UBE in turn will assist ECF in connecting to grassroots, multicultural parishes and developing practical resource tools.
The partnership was first announced June 15 at the 75th General Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
"I think that the collaboration with the Episcopal Church Foundation is one of the best things to have happen," Pinder said. "It will help us to connect all people who are able to see the need for reconciliation."
The key elements of the partnership include:
"The new association heralds dynamic change and forays into new ministry as the organization develops its leadership to focus on the Millennium Development Goals as part of their re-visioning," said the Rev. Angela Ifill, missioner for Black Ministries for the Episcopal Church.
- Fundraising: ECF will launch a $1.5 million, 3 year, capital campaign for UBE operations and endowment, pursue grants to fund staff and other UBE infrastructure, and provide capital campaign assistance for UBE Covenant Chapters.
- Leadership Initiatives: UBE and ECF will work towards transformational change at the grassroots level, promote multicultural reconciliation, engage with local UBE leadership development, and create resources for multicultural congregations.
- Communication and Marketing: ECF and UBE will collaborate on the development of materials relating to the capital campaign as well as the UBE website, newsletter and other publications as needed.
- UBE Operations and Infrastructure: ECF will provide support for UBE's governance, membership, programs and administration.
Variety of workshops
Pruitt said the various workshops -— African American Contemplative Spirituality; Family and Relationships, Hope and Healing; How to work with African American Boys; Conversation with the Historically Black Episcopal Colleges—are generating "positive responses" especially "the workshop called 'Why do Blacks Use the 'N' word?'"
This is an ongoing controversy in the Black community Pruitt explained saying some view the term as "strictly derogatory and inappropriate" while "others use it as a kind of greeting among old friends."
"It was important for people regardless of their position, to hear how people felt about the use of the word because we don't want to engage in any behaviors or practices which further denigrate African-American and Afro-Caribbean people," he said.
The workshop with leadership from the historically Black Episcopal Colleges stemmed from a desire to "engage the entire church in an effort to save the three historically Black colleges.
"We recognized that there was a time when there were dozens of such institutions and now there are very few and as we look across the church we realize that a significant percentage of our teachers, preachers, and leaders are people who came out of these institutions," Pruitt said. So we don't want to save them for nostalgic reasons, they are important and fertile ground for the future growth of the church."
At an August 1 luncheon a variety of speakers addressed the Windsor Report, General Convention, and reported on the state of the black church.
Top among black Episcopalians' concerns is forming a singular voice that can share thoughts on racism and poverty with the larger church, the Rev. Sandye Wilson, rector of St. Andrew and Holy Communion in South Orange, New Jersey, told the Associated Press in a widely published August 2 report.
'Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North'
Describing it as "very touching," Pruitt said the August 2 screening of the documentary "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North" was like "being at a loved one's funeral."
"It was just extremely powerful and moving," he said. "I don't think there was a single person in the room who wasn't deeply moved by the excellence of the story and the way it was put together."
"Traces" is a feature documentary 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 Episcopal Church's 18th Presiding Bishop.
In the film, Katrina Browne, a DeWolf descendant and producer and director of the documentary, narrated while cameras followed her and nine other family members. They retraced the route of the "Triangle Trade" in slaves, rum, sugar and other goods between Rhode Island, Ghana, Cuba and back to Rhode Island. Browne and the other members of the family addressed complex issues of atonement and reconciliation during the journey.
Pruitt said the film was viewed by a multicultural audience that consisted of the "youth of UBE and longtime members" and Browne was present to field questions.
"Part of the power of the film is that it brings together several strands of story," Pruitt explained. "That is many people knew some aspect of the story but the film brings it together in a way and shows the interrelatedness of the components of the evil of slavery in a way that I think very few people were aware of prior."
There was excitement expressed about the election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the church's 26th Presiding Bishop.
"Many people felt that the energy that UBE contributed, to the larger church, was part of the energy that resulted in her election in terms of trying to encourage the church to embrace a new paradigm," Pruitt said.
The Presiding Bishop-elect is an associate member of UBE and has been "extremely supportive" of UBE efforts in the Diocese of Nevada, Pruitt said.
"We hope that conferees will take away a new resolve to work together as the black community regardless of where we might be from in the interest of the mission and building up of the church from the black perspective," Ifill said. "As an example, Sudanese refugees are making the United States their home and see the Episcopal Church as their place of worship; they need to be welcomed into the black community as a growing entity in the black church."
"I pray that we walk away with a new sense of life within the UBE," Pinder said. "God gave us the spirit to serve him and our fellow man and to reconcile men unto him and to ourselves."
-- Daphne Mack is staff writer for Episcopal News Service.