It’s been a difficult week for Philadelphia. The murder of Walter Wallace, Jr. in West Philadelphia was just 11 blocks from our mother parish, Holy Apostles and the Mediator. Subsequent violent clashes with the police, property destruction, as well as tense but mostly peaceful protests have all happened in close proximity to HAM the past few nights. As of this writing, HAM’s property has not been damaged to my knowledge. In one of his frequent online updates, HAM’s faithful Senior Warden, Everett Gillison, spoke about how the church opened its doors to police officers who needed a place to use the restroom and rest on Wednesday night during the hours of unrest. I was deeply moved to hear about the witness of HAM and the Cookman Baptist Church with whom they share their buildings.
I cannot imagine how it must feel to be living in that community right now. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be a Black man in America, or a Black mother, or, for that matter, a police officer who is in the midst of this fray. HAM is only five miles away from Penn Wynne, but it might as well be 500 miles away. That structural and imaginative divide, which is replicated in many cities and communities around the country, is a huge part of America’s problem. Racism, violence, and extreme political divisions are just symptoms of something deeper—we are divided from one another at an external, structural level and an internal, heart level. Empathy, compassion, and mercy seem unimaginable. Actual societal change seems impossible. The Christian tradition has a name for this situation. It’s called sin. Sin encompasses both personal hardness of heart and vast structural evil. It is what divides us from God and each other. While policy, voting, and all the rest of it are vitally important (please vote!), they cannot alone solve the heart problem that is at the root. There is a sickness in the soul of America. Only the grace and mercy of God can heal it. Only the unconditional love and the indestructible life of the Risen One can heal it. As the actual Body of the Risen Christ, we Christians are singled out by God to work toward breaking down the barriers that prevent compassion and empathy, not contribute to them. We are set apart by God to work for the healing of our community. We are called to participate in the reconciliation that can only come when justice and mercy meet.
As important as these ongoing and terribly difficult conversations are for us to have, right now is also the time to support our siblings in Christ at Holy Apostles and the Mediator. It’s hard to know what to do, especially with the pandemic. But here’s one thing tangible to do: leaders from Holy Apostles and the Mediator pray Morning Prayer every morning, Monday-Saturday, at 7AM. Their prayer is broadcast on Facebook Live on their page https://www.facebook.com/HAMPhilly. If you find yourself awake at that time, I encourage you to log on and join in their prayer, listen to them, and drop a simple comment to let them know you are there, and that you are praying with and for them. The service is also recorded so you can watch and pray later in the morning, but it would be great to let them know that we stand beside them in prayer during this difficult time. We will look for other ways we can support them.
On the eve of this election, with all the upheaval and insanity all around us, our only path forward as people of faith is to reject contentiousness, jealousy, and pride. Pray. If you haven’t already voted, vote. Then pray some more. Prayer actually changes things. It also changes us, orienting us more and more toward God’s desire for the healing of the world. After the polls close on Tuesday at 8PM, the church doors will be open. You are welcome to come and pray silently for a few minutes on your own. At about 8:30PM, I will lead a service of prayer for our nation. This service will be live-streamed on our YouTube channel. If you do come to the church, please wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
May the God of peace keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and the love of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.