Episcopal Diocese of Western New York

Intercepting the Stones of Racism: Dean Kelly Brown Douglas Reinvigorates Racial Equity Work in Diocese

Nearly 300 people turned out last weekend for three events with the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, an eminent theologian and dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Her visit to the diocese marked the rebirth of the Diocesan Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination, led by the Honorable Rose Sconiers, a member of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Buffalo and the Rev. Matt Lincoln of Trinity Episcopal Church in Buffalo.

“This really fulfilled my dream for what a diocesan event can be like,” Bishop Bill Franklin said. “People, both Episcopalians and community members, turned out to spend time with a theological and educational leader of our church who was speaking on crucial issues. The weekend was part of preparing ourselves for a fall in which crucial issues in our community and our nation are being discussed.”

On Saturday morning, Douglas met with twenty members of the new commission to help plan their work. “Rev. Douglas set forth a vision for this newly revised commission and provided us with some suggestions as to how we can undertake this challenging work in our parishes,” Sconiers said. “She talked ‘truth to power’ and energized us as we strive to become the Beloved Community as envisioned by our Presiding Bishop.”

Douglas’s public lecture on Saturday afternoon, titled “Being Church When Race Matters,” drew 120 people from across the diocese and community.

“She presented fascinating information on the origins of racism in this country and on the particular ways segregation remains a significant issue in Buffalo, and she challenged us with her call that it isn’t up to Black people to explain racism to white people,” Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims said. “Rather, it is up to white people to make the effort to listen and learn from others on how to bridge the divide that leads to the indiscriminate murders of Black people in this country.”

Franklin hopes that Douglas’s visit will guide the work of dismantling racism in parishes across the diocese. “Parishes can participate by having honest conversations about racial equity. I hope that congregations will partner with people in the community, connecting our witness to Jesus Christ to the work of dismantling racism.”

On Sunday, Douglas preached at Trinity Episcopal Church, Buffalo.

“The most arresting image from her sermon was the idea of Christians being stone catchers to intercept the figurative stones thrown by the forces of white supremacy,” Lincoln said. “Intercepting those stones thrown at ourselves or at people of color who are marginalized is a way of following the way of Christ and creating the possibility of racial reconciliation.”

The sermon, he said, was greeted with loud applause.

Trinity has been working on racial equity for many years, Lincoln said, and he hopes that Douglas’s sermon will help the congregation understand its racial justice efforts in light of its advocacy on other issues, including sanctuary and public education.

“These things are distinct but not disconnected from each other, and they’re all related to white folks coming to terms with our privilege and how to extend it to others. We have to figure out how to get it right. We will screw up, but we’re also going to do good along the way and find new ways to respect dignity of every human being.”

Franklin hopes that Douglas’s visit will guide the work of dismantling racism in all parishes across the diocese.

“Parishes can participate by having honest conversations about racial equity,” he said. “I hope that congregations will partner with people in the community, connecting our witness to Jesus Christ to the work of dismantling racism.”