I want to congratulate two young men from the parish this week. Michael Zorc and Elliott Brown both graduated from Lower Merion High School this past week. Graduating high school is something to be celebrated and proud of generally, but these two young men and the rest of their classmates in the class of 2020 have had a particularly challenging Spring of their senior year and I am all the more impressed with their accomplishment in the midst of difficulty. If you have the opportunity, please join me in congratulating them and wishing them the best in their next steps.
Last Sunday, I attended a rally at City Hall that was sponsored by the NAACP. I went because I felt that God was calling me to go. I believed I needed to listen and give witness to the pain and suffering of African American in our community and in our nation. I listened to mothers who told of the terror they felt each and every time their sons left the home for any reason because it feels like it is only a matter of time before they too will under someone’s knee crying that they cannot breathe. I listened to the chants of I listened to African American community leaders and pastors who spoke of the depth of the suffering experienced by their communities in Philadelphia. I listened to their calls for concrete reform to public policy. I listened to their calls for reparations. I listened to their plea that white people in America, and particularly white police officers would stop killing them.
Last Monday, after a night of listening to police helicopters coming and going, I went over to City Avenue where I heard that there had been some property damage. Over the course of the morning, I joined 40 or 50 neighbors from Overbrook Park, Winnefeld, and Penn Wynne in cleaning up broken glass and other debris. I listened to the stories of our neighbors who are people of color. They expressed a lot of sadness that their neighborhood had been damaged and grief that young people felt so lost and powerless and hopeless that they resorted to destruction. There was anger that the stores and businesses they patronized and depended on were damaged. Almost everyone I talked to said they could understand the impulse, even if they didn’t condone the action. It was the mothers and the neighborhood teachers who were leading the clean up and restoration efforts, and I am deeply affected by the sense of dignity and personal agency these powerful women expressed.
I am writing this not to glorify what I did or to throw my hat into the political circus that swirls around these topics and distracts us from the truth. I am not writing so that you will either agree or disagree with me. I am writing as a pastor and a priest whose call is to listen, to bring what I’ve heard to God in prayer, and then to listen to what God might be calling me and our parish to do. I am writing to invite you all into this movement of listening and prayerful response.
One step—not the only or adequate step, but one step—toward healing our country and our community is to learn to listen to others better. I believe that one thing our church is called to do is to create opportunities to listen to difference, to listen to the stories of those who have been oppressed; even when, quite frankly, these stories are going to make us uncomfortable. We are called to take what we’ve heard to God in prayer and to listen to God in return. Done right, this process of listen and prayer will lead to other actions.
Where do we start? We start in our own neighborhood, looking for, recognizing, valuing and protecting the diversity that we find here. Then we look at our partners. We can listen to our friends in Darby Borough. We can listen to, cherish, and build our relationship with our mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator. This is simple work but it is not easy work, because as we listen we are going to be called to change and change is hard.
We are still in a pandemic, but an immediate opportunity for this prayerful work is on Monday, June 8. The bishop has called the entire diocese to participate in a litany for those who have been slain by violence. The Litany will be led by diverse voices from around the diocese and broadcast on the diocesan youtube channel (https://youtu.be/3xXN9tC9bc4) starting at 10AM. It will end with noonday prayers led by the bishop. I encourage each of you to join in these prayers, in full or in part, as you are able. I pray that all of us will have the clarity and resolve to follow Jesus where he leads us in this time.