These are actual instances of how institutional racism and personal bigotry work hand in glove to destroy attempts to change this society from one of White Supremacy and Patriarchy to one which looks beyond physical differences. (I will start – send your stories to share with those who need to understand on a conscious level the structure in which they live, work and in which their children’s character, ethics, morality are being formed. – don’t let me stand out here alone. To talk about these experiences on a personal level takes a lot of humility. The first step to break through the ego and ‘better than’ needs is to allow humility to take hold.)
by: Marceline Donaldson
One of the dominant conveyers of bigotry. What follows is one very small example of how it works!
Currently, we are seeing the demolition of the Black Church. That has been happening for decades. It moved along in earnest when the overall society realized the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was formed, nurtured and carried through successfully because of the Black Church. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a black preacher and Church leader with an ancestry filled with black ministers, organists and more.
This story starts in a Black Episcopal Church in Central Square, Massachusetts. A Church that has had its ups and downs and currently is down. What happens?
This is one small incident, but crucial in how the Black Church is being destroyed.
My husband and I served as interim ministers at St. Bartholomews Church in Central Square – Cambridge, MA. – in the mid-1980’s, a Church which is predominantly Jamaican, African American, with a few people from Barbados and Haiti – in other words, all people of color.
When we arrived there were two people licensed by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts to serve as Lay Eucharistic Ministers. One was the wife of the last rector.
We worked with several additional parishioners who were interested in serving their Church as Lay Eucharistic Ministers and as required, we sent letters to the Diocese asking that they be licensed. They attended the requisite training offered by the Diocese, were licensed and worked as Lay Eucharistic Ministers with no problems and many ‘thank you’s’.
The following year we added a couple more who also went through training and were licensed. We also encouraged them to get involved with the Diocese – as well as seeking out others in the congregation who were interested in Diocesan work. There were several and we did our share to make the Episcopal Diocese less White and more Diverse.
The Episcopal Diocese had one or two African Americans involved in their work – people they were accustomed to – the people who disproved the rule.
Everything went along fine until the Bishop under whom we made those additions and changes retired and a new bishop was elected. The new bishop was not comfortable with the increased numbers of African Americans having a say in the business of the Diocese and so began the process of elimination. How was that done? – Quietly! Under the radar, so to speak!
We applied for a renewal of the license for the -now – seven Lay Eucharistic Ministers, who had been licensed for a couple years; who had attended all of the training offered, some more than once and who were doing an excellent job. Back came a letter from the Bishop that those licenses could not be renewed because members of St. Bartholomew’s Church had never been licensed as Lay Eucharistic Ministers; the Church had never applied to have anyone so licensed and no one had ever appeared for training. So our request was denied and we were cast as irresponsible or ignorant for attempting to have licenses renewed which had not been issued in the first place.
That is how the constant struggle is set up and the negative stereotype ‘refreshed.’ Take one step forward. Make it a successful step. Others following in your footsteps become a threat and are seen as a ‘horde’. Minorities are put in the position of constantly having to fight against, have to struggle to achieve anything, which is exhausting. Block their path and after a time there are none. The fiction can then be run which goes “we don’t have any because there are none qualified or interested or willing to do the work. One Bishop moves to open doors; another moves to slam them shut.
It is stunning to see the paperwork, which we have kept, which lays out this scenario.
What did we accomplish? Nothing that made permanent change. The destruction of St. Bartholomew’s continued apace. It was time for us to move on and our place in the structure was outlined for us clearly so there could be no misunderstanding.
Time for us to move on meant the next step in the destruction of St. Bartholomew’s – a rector to whom the congregation had to minister instead of being ministered to and a couple steps after that made sure there would be an empty church soon and its small congregation would have to consider a ‘merger’ into a White Congregation – losing their history and identity completely.
We went off to the Bishop’s office to meet and attempt to correct what we thought was a mistake of some kind taking with us the copies of the licenses issued and all supporting paperwork hoping that would clear up any ‘misunderstanding’ or misplaced licenses or other records. It was a meeting that did not go well. It was clear licenses never having been issued was a fiction and one that was thinly veiled. The fiction was maintained even in sight of the licenses signed by the Bishop.. The copies and in two cases the original licenses were characterized as “we don’t know where those came from” and that went on until my well known temper exploded and I wound up accusing the Bishop of racism and outlining how, when, why and what this behavior was meant to create – and that basically was the intentional destruction of a Black Church. All denied with righteous indignation.
The Bishop started the meeting and acknowledged and complimented us on a job well done. He acknowledged the substantial increase in Church attendance over the time we served as Interim, but also said I was not Marceline Donaldson, but Mrs. Bennett and I should act accordingly- which he suggested should be attending Church on Sundays, sitting in the front row so I could be seen ‘appropriately’ as being ‘supportive’ of my husband.
We outlined for the Bishop the circumstances under which we had taken the job. I was in the ordination process at the time and this placement was totally in line with what I was doing in Seminary. I was to do most of the work because my husband had a full time job as a professor at an Episcopal Seminary and he was there to be supportive and the one who was ordained and who could carry out the responsibilities that fall only to the ordained. We also let him know I had never been Mrs. Bennett, would never be Mrs. Bennett and my legal name and the one I used under all circumstances was Marceline Donaldson.
The Bishop responded by saying he was ordaining people who were young, just out of seminary and he preferred to ordain young men because that is really who made the best priests. He added that because we had done such a great job he would use us as Interims in other Churches as needed and if my understanding of my position more closely matched his he thought our work could make a substantial contribution to the Church.
My explosion, which could be heard outside the Bishops office, did not help the situation, but it did make clear to the Bishop that I would not be a part of the picture he drew and that his concept was racist and sexist and we thought the Episcopal Church had and was moving away from that – which was really about sin.
He did agree to renew the licenses and Robert and I went home. We talked about how we were going to withdraw from St. Bartholomew’s and the Episcopal Church. We were clearly only welcome if we could go along with the program of using the reputations and respect we had gained to maintain the Episcopal Church in its current stance with its institutionalized White Supremacy in tact and its Patriarchy moving in such a way to incorporate those who could go along with the program and push out those who wanted the world Jesus promised.
I went back to one of the three places in Scripture which has sustained me:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”
It has always been amazing to me how so many people are able to use the institution in which they serve to maintain themselves as “better than” and their institution serving the needs of White Supremacy and the maintenance of the Patriarchy while doing what they consider the work of that part of the world in which they have chosen to make their lives, raise a family, and thrive without a conscious realization that it is being done at the expense of the lives of others. What we also came to see and understand is that those so mired in the maintenance of the Patriarchy and White Supremacy are also mired so deep in sin that the lives they show to the public and the private life they lead are very different and separate from one another. That private life is generally immoral, full of serious ethical problems with a character that peeps out ever so often showing a very ugly personna.
Why was it necessary to keep the Diocese White, male and begin the destruction of a Church which had a long history in the Diocese as well as its neighborhood? WHY? Because that was the beginning necessity for the conversion of the neighborhood back to a White neighborhood. The era of the move to the suburbs was drawing to a close making necessary the “whitening” of neighborhoods which “darkened” when White Flight started. These movements happen over generations and our conscious awareness of them only happens at their end when their goals are being realized and can no longer happen “under cover.”
In the vineyard of the fallen are my brothers and sisters who want to segregate us by color – by sex – by ethnicity – by sexual orientation – by all kind of other ‘differences’ to shore up their ego and identity so they don’t have to do the work of being.
How long before the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the prisoners set free, those who walk in darkness brought into a great light.
When we shore up those who are keeping us all in bondage to their need for power, money and dominion-over, our lives are in jeopardy and our eternity closed out.
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