Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

August 12, 2022

Friends,

Five years ago this week, white supremacists descended on Charlottesville. On the evening of August 11th, a tiki torch toting mob marched across the grounds of the University of Virginia chanting racist slogans and beating a group of students who they came across. The mob then surrounded St. Paul’s Memorial Church where an ecumenical prayer service was being held by people who were in Charlottesville to counter-protest the next day. Their numbers that night overwhelmed the off-duty law enforcement officers who had been hired to provide security, and the worshippers were trapped in the Nave until the crowd outside began to disperse and alternative exit points were rendered safe. At the rally the next day, protestors who opposed the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee were faced by counter-protestors, many of whom were clergy persons, including our retired bishop, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston. Of course, we all know that chaos ensued. The governor declared a state of emergency. By noon, the state police had declared that the rally was an unlawful assembly. Riot police from multiple agencies struggled to clear the square, now known as Emancipation Park. It was not long after this declaration that a self-identified white supremacist intentionally drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors who were dispersing. Heather Heyer was killed, and three dozen others were injured.

 

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was arrested on August 14, 1965, along with 28 others, while protesting the segregated institutions in Fort Deposit, Alabama. All were arrested and transported in a garbage truck to jail in Haynesville, AL . Two juveniles were released the following day, and the rest were held for another six days. Daniels was from Keene, NH and had come into the Episcopal Church as a teenager. He almost immediately felt a vocation to the priesthood which waned after the death of his father while he was away at college. Daniels was elected valedictorian of his class at the Virginia Military Institute in 1961 and enrolled at Harvard to pursue graduate school. During worship on Easter 1962, he experienced a renewal of grace and a renewed conviction that he was being called to the priesthood. He entered seminary in Boston. In the spring of 1965, Daniels, like many other students, answered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s invitation to join the struggle for civil rights in Alabama. He stayed for a brief time, returned to Boston to arrange to complete his final semester while working in Selma. There he marched, worked on voter registration drives, and worked to integrate the local Episcopal church. On August 20, 1965, after spending a week in a jail in Haynesville, Jonathan Daniels pushed Ruby Sales, a black protestor with whom he had been jailed, out of the way of a shotgun blast that killed him instantly. Daniels is commemorated as a martyr on the Episcopal Church’s calendar on August 14th.

 

I remind us of these stories because we, so often, are naïve about, overlook, willfully ignore, and/or dismiss how racism is woven through our society. Even when we have a martyr (one of Mike Oglesby’s heroes) on our calendar, even while only five years ago, just up I-64 from our front door, white supremacists violently swarmed and beat people while chanting, “You will not replace us.” I also remind us of these stories because we are people of God, children created in the very image of divine love. As such, a part of our vocation is to give oppression, prejudice, and injustice no quarter. This, of course, means contending with the truth that many of us have benefited from racist and oppressive systems and institutions. We cannot pretend that racism, misogyny, ageism, ableism, xenophobia, and discrimination of the LGBTQ community don’t exist and don’t continue to inform – subtly and not so subtly – institutions of which we are part. We cannot pretend that we do not hear all kinds of dog-whistles that try to stoke our suspicions and fears and loathing of the other. God has, time and time again, lovingly held up a mirror to us that we might be made contrite and confess and contend with our own sins. Today, I think that that mirror is being held up to us in the hands of our black, brown, immigrant, aging, disabled, and LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We would be well served, they would be well served, the world be well served, if we would have the courage to peer into that mirror with contrite hearts and see ourselves through their eyes. This may well be God’s reckoning happening in our time, and may we pray for the faith and humility to face it with the hope that we will, as always, be made new.

 

Your brother,

 

Michael