In the 58th chapter of Isaiah the 12th verse the prophet tells the listener that they are called to be the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. What precedes this proclamation are words foretelling of a time when the poor and homeless are clothed and housed, that the oppressed are freed, that the hungry are fed, that malicious and judgmental talk has ceased, and that the glory of the Lord dwells among the listener as they set forth to help create this period of restoration.
This past year has brought so many of us to our knees. 2020 unleashed the dual pandemics of racism and the novel COVID-19 virus, set against the backdrop of a cruel political climate pushing many of us to recognize and wrestle with the depth of race-based inequity and the ways in which the grossly unequal distribution of wealth in the United States perpetuates unjust systems. Furthermore, many Episcopalians were forced to unpack the ways in which our justice work had not fully prepared us for the magnitude of the forces we found ourselves up against.
In the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, we dutifully responded to direction of local health officials and Diocesan leadership by closing the physical church buildings. I serve a congregation in Downtown DC, a space that pre-COVID was a bustling metro center filled with people from all over the world. The downtown public square was also inhabited by many people experiencing homelessness. As businesses and churches shuttered their doors many of those who were unhoused also found themselves bereft of services they had depended on. Spaces that had provided bathrooms, electricity, food programs, computer access, a quiet place to retreat, now closed. Places that once housed shower ministries, art programs, books, all closed. Some churches were able to create partnerships with external entities, and other denominations to attend to some of these needs. There was the need to mobilize hand washing stations, to create ways to distribute food outside, and to generate the money and political will to continue providing services to the vulnerable downtown population. We were doing our best in a challenging environment to attend to the breach, working to do repairs would have to continue after we figured out how to stop the hemorrhaging.
Simultaneously, the news of the murders of Ahmand Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd was gaining attention. These murders, on top of the knowledge that the virus was disproportionately impacting black, brown, and indigenous people, pushed diverse groups of citizens onto the streets demanding that Black Lives Matter and that public servants should be in the business of serving the public with respect and dignity. Again, churches in downtown DC mobilized to be present to those experiencing homelessness. As protestors moved into the area after the 45th President used one of our historic Episcopal Churches as the backdrop for a photo opportunity, the unhoused population was again displaced. The breach was growing. This was made more evident as twice in December the Proud Boys came through the district spewing hate and tearing down Black Lives Matter signs from churches. My colleague at the nearby Asbury United Methodist, Historic African American church is quoted equating the violation of the removal and burning of the BLM sign as a “modern day cross burning.”
Throughout the course of this year many congregations were coming to a fuller realization that we needed to do more work around racism. Some congregations were beginning to be more intentional about repairing a 400-year-old breach that in many ways our Episcopal churches had helped create. Notably, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and The Virginia Theological Seminary have done some excellent work around reparations. This has been hard work, many truths unearthed, and some pain explored, but the work is ongoing, and the healing has begun.
This year our churches have been on the frontlines in a number of ways. Some great, and some have been profound learning experiences. For my own part, through the organizing of the church I lead, we have been able to offer some direct services to those experiencing homelessness. Being as nimble as possible given the fact that the virus has shifted the ways in which we offer food, clothing, or other services. Through the generosity of parishioners, we have been able to provide groceries and rent assistance to those whose employment has shifted due to the pandemic.
Some of those in our congregation who want to contribute, but are not able to offer direct services, have committed themselves to the work of racial reconciliation. They have been meeting with each other to name the ways in which our church and society has unknowingly and knowingly prioritized Whiteness and are beginning the work of being actively anti-racist.
Those many years ago the prophet proclaimed that you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in. This is what organizers would call a long-term campaign. Faithful people would say that the restoration of which the prophet speaks will only be realized in God’s time. What is clear to me is that this is a Kairos moment for the faithful people, for those who call the land of America home, and for those doing ministry through the Episcopal Church. Our Baptismal covenant calls us to strive for justice, respect the worth and dignity of all, and resist evil. God has promised that we are not sent to do this work all alone. We do this with other people of faith, with our siblings in other traditions, with our black, brown, indigenousness, gender queer, and poor neighbors. We will do the hard work of repair and reconciliation until restoration occurs. We move forward in hope that restoration will occur and pray for the strength, courage, and fortitude that it will take to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
This year has revealed much to us, may these revelations inspire us to do our bit of good where we are, while we actively anticipate that day when God redeems and restores all things.
Rev. Glenna J. Huber
Rector of Church of the Epiphany