”You are about to be ordained into a church that thrives on its English and colonial past,” he said, ”a church which historically has sought to make its black congregations and churches invisible either by not admitting them to the councils or by trying to model them on the basis of English piety and English preaching.” – Dr. Hood, Prof. General Theological Seminary
Ouch. Recited at the ordination ceremony of Reverend Sandra Wilson in 1982, it’s a hard word to read, a hard word to remember.
As a second year seminarian part of my work load includes field education, a part-time job at a church or organization connected to the work I hope to do in the future. I’m following a God calling to serve in the Episcopal church – but I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Although the church now actively supports and fosters the growth of black congregations, and through recruitment, training, and development programs encourages black postulants and candidates to seek vocations in lay and ordained ministries”, that statement is still true.
Jesus, help me not get stuck here. Help me drink from the cup of reconciliation.
Sandwiched between two very different neighborhoods my field education site is a posh Episcopal Church on Manhattans East Side. A 10 block walk north takes you to East Harlem – half a mile, but a world away. Here economic disparity manifests itself as wounds that won’t heal. It looks like broken families, a host of preventable diseases and poorly performing schools. It looks like food and housing insecurity. And yet, East Harlem is where I call home.
My field education site is a white space. A justice-seeking, reconciliation hungry space, but still … a privileged white space. Not just predominately, overwhelmingly. How do I make peace with my placement? My calling? How do I silence the voice that asks – “what are YOU, doing here?” This is about race and culture and class and I see myself at the center of a handful of difficult conversations. I am the family churches like this seeks to help with grab and go meals, my children would be the recipients of backpacks purchased for “disadvantaged” youth. We are the family wondering over the stability of programs that promise to keep our apartment from making the leap to market rate. My presence asks that I dance around those boundaries, that I step outside of the margins I live within – to be the other in this space.
And otherness is everywhere. It’s at the forefront of our national consciousness. It’s the hot topic of our political discourse and the thing many churches won’t touch. It greets me at the door when I walk into the church I’ll serve 15 hours a week for the rest of the year. The 15-minute walk from my apartment to the church is a moving meditation on dichotomy. The stark contrast between uptown and downtown is hard to face, the walk from handicap to privilege, a bitter pill to swallow. I’ve always lived in two worlds but I’ll never get used to it.
Ballet and a love of the arts kept me in, yet out of the ‘hood – that and a set of parents who both loved and disciplined well. Where we lived was one thing, what we did and where we went was another. Where you lived and how much money your parents made was a private matter. The takeaway for me … Make your way to the arena by doing the work. Period.
So here I am more than 30 years later and I’m still doing the work of living in liminal spaces – playing with the big dogs, in the big park – hoping no one notices, or at least we won’t have to talk about the line I have to cross to get home. It’s exhausting.
Let your handmaiden find grace in your sight … #GiveMeGrace