- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
Vandalism at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour: Some thoughts a week later
Last Sunday I arrived at church for choir practice and the 10:00 service, to find that vandals had scrawled “TRUMP NATION: WHITES ONLY” on the banner advertising our Spanish language service and on the wall of the Memorial Garden, the area beside the church where many of my longtime friends and mentors are buried. We are a church proud of our cultural and racial diversity – close to 80% of our members are immigrants , from all over African, the Caribbean and Latin America. When we gather for worship on a Sunday morning it feels to me like the reality of the “reign of God” – people from east and west gathered at Christ's table, joined by a common faith and spiritual practice that transcends our differences.
The event hit social media and has evoked outrage that this could happen – and expressions of support for our community and anger at those who did this. What it represents for others is important for humanizing our national discourse. But I hope that the story that breaks through ultimately will be the one I experienced: the depth and clarity of the love that binds us as a community of faith, carrying and grounding our response to this event and affirming of love as stronger than hatred and fear. The coverage on WAMU, which included an interview with me next to the desecrated Memorial Garden Wall, makes a good start https://wamu.org/news/16/11/14/facing_racist_vandalism_diverse_church_in_silver_spring_meets_hate_with_love
Of course we were shocked and wounded by this event – in this community of “blue” Maryland that prides itself on our racial and cultural diversity. But we didn’t dwell much on “who would do this?” I was oddly unsurprised, I realize now: upset, but with more of a feeling of, “So, here it is: we knew it was out there and it has come to us”– this atmosphere of hatred and fear that has become so pervasive in our political discourse through this election season. But my reaction as a relatively privileged white Anglo may be different from those directly threatened, who have been feeling frightened and vulnerable even before this. I am also aching for them – especially the children and the parents who seek to keep them safe.
What was inspiring was the way that the Church, as a Whole Church and the body of Christ, came together to support us. The Bishop of Washington, the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, came to celebrate communion at our Spanish service and invited people from around the diocese to come at short notice, and they came. Our rector, the Rev. Dr. Robert Harvey, spoke for the welcome that binds our community. Our preacher, the Rev. Francisco Valle, spoke inspiringly of who we are as Christians: We are people who answer love with hate and this is the kind of time when we bear witness to this. He spoke from the heart, he quoted St. Francis, and he spoke for all of us. (see more here Afterwards chalk was given out and the people gathered, especially the children, wrote messages of love: Love Wins: Love is stronger than hate; on the sidewalks around the church.
Meanwhile Bishop Mariann and those who spoke for the church protested against these acts of violence against the vulnerable, and called on the President-Elect and his supporters to separate themselves from the hate-speech that this election has stirred up in his name. It was not a condemnation of “those people” but a call to put an end to behavior that is hurtful toward the vulnerable. Not a call for “political correctness” but a call for respect and empathy, and humane attention to the damage our words can do, and to the need for healing words. This too is at the heart of our faith.
In the week since, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming –candles, flowers and cards left at our doors, a new sign replacing the old and stating “Silver Spring Loves and Welcomes Immigrants.” I was at the church on Tuesday most of the day working with our office of Samaritan Ministry and serving people from our community and our congregation who need help taking their next steps toward applying for jobs, improving computer skills, and other steps out of poverty and homelessness. The gestures of support, and media calls from all over the world, wer flowing through the church office all morning, all day, on Tuesday. The imam from up the road came with some of his congregation to pray at the church; 2 guys arrived from Pennsylvania with offers to clean the wall for free; others just stopped by to say "I'm with you" - and it continues.
At Our Saviour we have always been proud of our mission to be “a home for all God’s people” and we’ve been clear that we are here to embody Jesus’ welcome to all, even when we sometimes have to work at it. Being part of this community for over 25 years has been a privilege and joy. It has kept me aware- if sometimes appropriately uncomfortable –of my own role and experience as a white person in this society, and grateful for the welcome that I receive because of a shared faith and the joy of common worship with so many people I might not otherwise have crossed paths with in the course of daily life. And I’m grateful that my children were able to grow up with the experience of this kind of friendly diversity as normal and good and real – because I believe that that is what we embody at Our Saviour, and indeed what the Church at its best bears witness to.
In one way it is exciting that as a result of this ugly event our common vision and commitment to one another is on display for all to see. In another way it is exhausting, the way any grieving process is exhausting, sorting out the sense of violation the loss of the sense of safety we had, and becoming a public symbol on social media across the world, because of the way that this hate crime reflects the sad and broken state of our country. At Our Saviour we haven’t been spending much energy on “Who did this?” Or “Why did they do this?” Jesus was the one who said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." My comfort and my hope is that all this public exposure will invite people of good will, across the political spectrum, to think on these things, and recognize the need for far more compassion and empathy, and firmness in the struggle against hate as we journey together through the very challenging time that lies ahead.www.episcopalcos.org.