The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, seat of the Diocese of New York, will hold on March 25 at noon EDT a solemn Service of Apology for the participation and complicity of the diocese and its members in the transatlantic slave trade and in that trade’s continuing aftermath and consequences.
The impact of chattel slavery and the brutal oppression of enslaved people is well attested in contemporary social discourse, the cathedral said in a news release.
“Perhaps less well-known are the roots and outbranches of slavery and the exploitation of enslaved people by the Episcopal Church in New York City. Churches in the city were constructed by the labor of enslaved African Americans, whose descendants were routinely refused equal participation in worship, even after Emancipation,” the news release said.
The Reparations Commission of the Diocese of New York was founded in recognition of this deeply rooted source of inequity. Over the past several years, the Reparations Commission has facilitated a series of programs and services to help Episcopalians in New York delve into this hard part of civic and religious history, so that all might together develop a shared means of giving amends for the stolen lives of enslaved persons in New York and America, the cathedral noted.
Diocesan Bishop Andrew Dietsche, speaking at the Diocesan Convention in 2022, condemned the sins of slavery and racism and pledged to continue the Reparations Commission’s work of dialogue and atonement. “This church joined in the larger societal oppression of African men and women and children, and participated in the kidnapping and sale of human beings, and enslaved countless people who were made in the image of God as we are made in the image of God, and born into the promise and possibility of freedom, as we are too,” he said. “We did this because there was money in it, and that money built our churches and funded Christian mission and sustained our common life,” he said.
The March 25 service will provide an opportunity for Episcopalians to see and reckon with the legacy of slavery in New York City. In addition to the ritual atonement represented by the service, the diocese has also pledged to continue the fight against racism and bigotry with the institution of a $1.1 million fund, through which the Reparations Commission will work to repair the historic and contemporary damage done to people of African descent.
The Service of Apology will include a video address by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Representatives from churches across the diocese and all the bishops of the diocese, will participate in the service.
The service will be held in person at the cathedral and livestreamed on its website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. All are invited to take part. As Dietsche said, “When we consider a violent, inhumane history of degradation and bondage, the twin acts of apology and forgiveness are the essential place from which we can make the deep dive, seek and tell the truth, be accountable, and have the possibility of making a shared future.”