The Rev. Paula E. Clark, Canon to the Ordinary (a position on the bishop’s staff) of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Washington, wrote this reflection for the diocese’s enewsletter for its parishes’ leaders. St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church, which operates Loaves and Fishes as one of its ministries, is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and Loaves and Fishes is a recipient of funds from the diocese, both from the regular Hunger Fund and the special COVID-19 Emergency Relief Appeal.
July 20, 2020
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
– 2 Chronicles 7:14
The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to see, through a new lens, that the effects of the pandemic are not equal across the Diocese of Washington. For me, before medical professionals, scientists, politicians and pundits proclaimed that the coronavirus disproportionately affected the economic, health care, and morbidity outcomes of Black and Brown people, the evidence was evident throughout the Diocese.
I serve on the Diocesan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund Committee, the program that provides financial support to food ministries, members of our congregations, and people in our surrounding communities, who are suffering from food insecurity and other hardships brought on by the COVID-19 crisis. In April, Bishop Mariann suspended the annual Bishop’s Appeal, asking instead that people give as they were able to this emergency fund. The people of the Diocese of Washington and beyond responded to this call with over $100,000 in donations.
This generosity was miraculous, life-changing, and occurred not a moment too soon. The applications we have received in the months since are overwhelmingly from our multicultural parishes for members and those they serve in their surrounding communities who are suffering from staggering job loss, illness, homelessness and hunger, and who are not being supported by government programs. The people we have granted support to have lost their jobs as home health aides, construction workers, restaurant workers, nursery school teachers and aides, and others–all with one staggering fact in common: they do not qualify for unemployment, rendering them completely without financial resources or a safety net. These persons do not have the luxury of social distancing at home, quarantining, and telework. Many have been personally affected by the coronavirus, either with their own illness or that of a loved one.
We have had several heartbreaking stories of persons adversely affected by COVID-19, but a recent one in particular stands out. A mother of two young children, ill with the virus, gave birth to twins, and was immediately put on a ventilator. Her husband, who had lost his job, took the babies home from the hospital while she remained in a medically induced coma. Thankfully, the mother is now home with her husband and four children, but she will not be able to work for months while recovering.
As summer approached and we continued to grapple with the growing hardships and tragedies of the coronavirus crisis, the video of George Floyd dying at the knee of a callous police officer circulated around the world and horrified us. The violent deaths of Aumaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain at the hands of police officers and vigilantes angered us. We, in the Diocese of Washington, suddenly were in the epicenter of rage and controversy over the sin of racism. No need to go into detail over a presidential photo and its after effects, but we have experienced a seismic shift in our resolve to dismantle racism in the Diocese of Washington.
The Strategic Plan always prioritized Justice as one of our three primary objectives in ministry over the next 5 years. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, we envisioned collaborating on region-specific justice initiatives that together would provide more impact on the communities we serve. The dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have changed our strategy and focus, and with the blessing of the Diocesan Standing Committee and Council, our new strategic objective is “Equity and Justice.”
We envision brave uncovering, understanding, reckoning and action to dismantle racism in ourselves, our congregations and institutions, the Diocese and our communities. We will provide resources, programs and initiatives that will allow us to engage in antiracist ministry, no matter our experience and/or comfort in confronting racism. We will develop a Diocesan Antiracism Covenant, that we will encourage individuals, faith communities, and the diocesan leadership to sign, pledging our commitment to dismantle racism. We have claimed antiracism and systemic inequity as a primary lens through which all our Diocesan strategic objectives will be addressed.
Together, we will strive for equity and justice by adjusting our lens to focus squarely and soberly on dismantling racism in ourselves, our congregations, the Diocese, and our communities.