Highlights for March

In this time, we stand on the Plain of Waiting


By Richard LeSueur

Beneath the towering umber faces of Mount Sinai lies a broad, empty valley called the Plain of Waiting. Bounded by peaks that rise sharply out of the south Sinai, the Plain of Waiting is where tradition says the people of Israel waited and waited in a howling desolation. Dislocated from familiar things, reduced to a marginal existence, they grew more and more anxious. To their leader Moses they repeatedly cried, “Did you bring us out into this wilderness that we might die?”  

To be alive in this time of global pandemic is to occupy a “plain of waiting.” We wait for a vaccine. We wait for the number of active cases to reduce. We wait for the end of a “second wave.” We wait for the easing of restrictions. We wait.

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New Lent and Easter resources are available

Episcopal Church Public Affairs Office

New and updated Lent and Easter resources for congregations, dioceses, and communities of faith are available from the Episcopal Church, including Updated Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent curriculum; Sermons That Work for Holy Week and Easter; a new podcast series, Prophetic Voices: Preaching and Teaching Beloved Community.

Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent: The journey through Lent into Easter is a journey with Jesus. We are baptized into his life, self-giving, and death, then we rise in hope to life transformed. …

Prophetic Voices: Preaching and Teaching Beloved Community: This new podcast series is hosted by the Rev. Isaiah “Shaneequa” Brokenleg, Episcopal Church staff officer for Racial Reconciliation. Across our church and our society, we are having profound dialogues about race, truth, justice, and healing.

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“The Black Church” includes an Episcopal presence

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry appears in “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is our Song,” interviewed by Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Photo/Henry Louis Gates, Jr. via Facebook

By Episcopal Journal

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is among the faith figures in “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song,” a new four-hour, two-part documentary series by noted historian and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

The series premieres Feb. 16 and 17 on PBS stations nationwide and is available via PBS on various streaming services.

Gates traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America as the source of “African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power.

“The documentary reveals how Black people have worshipped and, through their spiritual journeys, improvised ways to bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World, while translating them into a form of Christianity that was not only truly their own, but a redemptive force for a nation whose original sin was found in their ancestors’ enslavement across the Middle Passage,” according to the PBS description.

Besides Curry, Gates interviews Oprah Winfrey; musician John Legend; actress Jennifer Hudson, civil rights leaders the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Rev. William Barber II and gospel legends Yolanda Adams, Pastor Shirley Caesar and BeBe Winans.

Gates and Curry discuss the powerful influence of music in the Black church and the emotional pull of traditional spirituals.

“When somebody starts singing in a certain way,” Curry said, “folk, inside, start reacting and responding. And eventually, there may be shouts and there may be silence, but something is moving inside. And that’s where the Black church is found: in those heartbeats.”

“And that heartbeat comes from Africa,” Gates said.

“Straight from Africa,” Curry agreed. “No doubt about it. And it has been integrated with the Christian story and experience.”

Gates himself has Episcopal roots, although he is shown in the series attending his childhood church, Waldon United Methodist Church in Piedmont, W.Va. His mother’s family was from West Virginia.

Gates now is famously the host of “Finding Your Roots,” the PBS show that traces the family histories of celebrity guests.

However, his interest was sparked much earlier. In an article for The New Yorker, written in 2008 and titled “Family Matters,” Gates wrote about his paternal grandfather, Edward St. Lawrence Gates, known as Pop Gates to his family. He lived in Cumberland, Md.

“Pop Gates was buried at the Rose Hill Cemetery, where our forebears were among the very few Negroes allowed to disturb the eternal sleep of Cumberland’s élite white Episcopal citizenry.

“The town’s Episcopal churches had been segregated at least since the black St. Philips offered its first Communion, on June 19, 1910. That day, the church’s records show, Pop, his mother, Maud, his wife, Gertrude Helen Redman, and about half a dozen other Gateses took the Sacrament, which was offered by the Diocese of Maryland’s white bishop.”

His documentary on the Black church, said Gates, is “a systematic exploration of the myriad ways in which African Americans have worshipped God in their own images, and continue to do so today, from the plantation and prayer houses, to camp meetings and store-front structures, to mosques and mega-churches.

“This is the story and song our ancestors bequeathed to us, and it comes at a time in our country when the very things they struggled and died for — faith and freedom, justice and equality, democracy and grace — all are on the line. No social institution in the Black community is more central and important than the Black church,” he said.

Highlights for February

Inspired by Cranmer, Lenten program
combines daily worship and Bible study
Thomas Cranmer was a leader of the 16th century English Reformation. Photo/National Portrait Gallery, London

By Sharon Sheridan

A Lenten program created by a liturgy professor and priest offers a way for congregations to study the Bible within the context of worship and community in a quintessentially Anglican way.

“I’ve always been really drawn to the preface that [Thomas] Cranmer wrote to his first prayer book,” said the Rev. Kevin Moroney, liturgy professor and chapel director at General Theological Seminary in New York and priest-in-residence at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Clifton, N.J.

“What he explained in this preface is really that the Holy Scriptures can be learned by reading them, book by book, continuously nestled within the arms of the daily prayers, morning and evening,” he said. And, when they do so, Cranmer wrote, clergy and laity “become inflamed with the love of God’s true religion.

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Book offers hope in journey through Lent

Review by Jerry Hames

What better time during the isolation caused by physically distancing from family and friends during the pandemic, coupled with the desire to drive away the winter’s cold, than to pick up a book that takes us through the solemnity of the Lenten season, offering a promise of hope for the days ahead?

The Stations of the Cross is a devotional practice that originated in the early centuries of Christianity. Pilgrims who could not actually walk the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem — the “sorrowful road” that it is believed Jesus took from Pilate’s judgment hall to Golgotha to face his crucifixion — were able to simulate this experience by meditating upon a series of images.

This noteworthy book, a collaboration between Margaret Adams Parker, an artist, and Katherine Sounderegger, a preacher, both faculty members at Virginia Theological Seminary, leads readers through the traditional 14 Stations.

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