Dear Friends in Christ:
On Saturday, February 2nd at Trinity Cathedral, the diocese will celebrate the life of Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. We will be privileged to have as our preacher the Rev. Angela Shepherd, Canon for Mission in the Diocese of Maryland. I encourage you to attend, not only because it will be a great day, but for two reasons specific to our common life.
The first is that we, as a diocese, need ongoing reflection about the state of our congregations in regard to race. I am told we now have fewer clergy of color than a decade ago. We have one historically black congregation, but the rest are overwhelmingly white. With the exception of Holy Cross and (until recently) Calvary, our parishes have rarely crossed racial lines in choosing their rectors. Moreover, our demographics do not reflect the diversity of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania. There are growing minority communities in which we have no presence. These are not merely flaws in any reasonable strategy for growth. They are ways we fall short of the Gospel expectation that the Church should embrace and manifest “from every family, language, people and nation… a kingdom of priests to serve our God” (Revelation 5: 9-10). We need to do more than ponder these things; as we shape our mission strategy, we need to think how God wants to reshape us to embody the fullness of His image. Marking Absalom Jones Day with appropriate prayer, preaching and Sacrament, is a good way to begin.
Second, I am mindful that we are emerging from a prolonged period of conflict that has left many of us exhausted and shaken. We need to be refreshed and fed from the deep sources of the Church's faith – the Word of Scripture, the power of prayer, the reality of Christ in His Body and Blood and in our fellowship, and the faithful record of His saints who endured much that we might inherit the legacy of the Gospel. The record of their witness inspires us with practical hope, that we might “lift [our] drooping hands and strengthen [our] weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12) to walk in joy the road that is set before us. Certainly Absalom Jones is such an effective witness. His congregation of freed slaves declared, as the purpose of their founding, the intent “to arise out of the dust and shake ourselves, and throw off … servile fear.” This is the sort of courage God's saints have always needed, and always shown, as they laid their lives on the line in mission to a beloved and fallen world. Let us use the day to drink deeply from this well.
I am mindful this celebration falls on Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. I hereby authorize and encourage all the parishes of this diocese to celebrate Sunday, February 3rd, with the propers and color appropriate to that Feast. Saturday’s coincidence is fitting. In Luke, Simeon greets the Child with the astonishing praise that God, in Him, has shown “a light to enlighten the nations” (2:31). My hope is that through the prayer and praise of this entire weekend, God may fill us with His light that we may more truly reflect the breadth of His glory and more faithfully bring that light into the world.
Faithfully your bishop and brother in Christ,
Dorsey W. M. McConnell