The Cathedral Of St. John The Divine Host Diocesan Service Of Apology For Slavery

March 22, 2023

From its origins in the 16th century through and beyond its eventual abolition in the 19th century.

The transatlantic slave trade has had a profound impact on the history of North America and the development of the United States.

The Episcopal Diocese of New York will gather for a Service of Apology for Slavery, to make steps towards atonement for this foundational American crime against humanity, on Saturday, March 25th from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, located at 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street) in Harlem, New York.

The impact of chattel slavery and the brutal oppression of enslaved people is well-attested in contemporary social discourse. Perhaps less well-known are the roots and out branches 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 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 Right Reverend Andrew ML 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.”

The March 25 service will provide an opportunity for Episcopalians from across the Diocese 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 The Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, reflecting the momentous nature of this gathering. Representatives from churches across the Episcopal Diocese of New York, including The Right Reverend Andrew Dietsche and all the bishops of the Diocese, will likewise participate in the service, decrying the heinous evil of slavery and the complicity of the church and state in the persistence of racism.

The Service of Apology for Slavery will be held in person at the Cathedral and livestreamed on its websiteFacebook page, and YouTube channel. All are invited to take part in this solemn rite. In the words of Bishop Dietsche, “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.”

The Cathedral

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cathedral has responded to changing needs in the local community and across the city and state. People from many faiths and communities worship together in daily services held online and in person; the soup kitchen serves roughly 50,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs to safely provide resources and aid to the

hardest-hit New Yorkers; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Advancing the Community of Tomorrow, the renowned preschool, afterschool and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures; concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance—such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.

Photo credit: 1-2) Source.

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