Experiencing the Other

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by Gretchen Rehberg 

My covenant with him was a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness and he turned  many from iniquity.  (Malachi 2:5-6)

Today is the feast day of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Delany. (To learn more about these two men, click here).

These men were two of the first African-American bishops in the Episcopal Church. They served in a time of great prejudice and official segregation. They stood as witnesses to the truth of what Paul wrote: “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

The unfortunate reality of the history of the Church is that the words of Paul have been ignored in many times and places. Yet the witness of the faithful is one of steadfast commitment to the new life promised to us in the Resurrection. In the face of official oppression and segregation, in the face of a power system which would marginalize those deemed inferior, Demby and Delany “walked with [God] in integrity and uprightness.”

I wonder where today these two would challenge the Church to live into our Resurrection life. Where do we still find segregation and oppression? Where do we still find power and authority protecting “their turf”?

The Resurrection is a Divine stamp of “no” to those who would sacrifice the innocent for the sake of their own power or gain. The Resurrection brings freedom to all people. Will we look honestly at our Church and name those places where the Resurrection life is not fully experienced? Can we find in the witness of Delany and Demby the courage to work for the Gospel even when experiencing oppression, and work to eliminate that oppression in the Church?

Seek out someone who looks “different” from you and ask if you can simply listen to their experience of life in the Church. Listen for stories of welcome and/or rejection. Resist the desire to apologize or explain and simply try to learn how another person has experienced the hospitality and inclusion of our Church.

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