Minnesota Episcopalians expand racial healing work as church marks one year since George Floyd’s murder

By David Paulsen
Posted May 25, 2021
George Lloyd mural

A mural memorializing George Floyd and other Black victims of police violence is displayed near the site in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Floyd died May 25, 2020, while being taken into police custody. Photo: Paul Lebens-Englund

[Episcopal News Service] When George Floyd was killed on May 25 a year ago by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, many Episcopalians and clergy in Minnesota’s Twin Cities took to the streets and joined crowds expressing outrage and calling for an end to racial injustice locally and nationally. They protested, attended vigils, prayed for peace and helped clean up the neighborhoods damaged by days of unrest.

For the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, it also was a call to look inward, said Bishop Craig Loya, who was consecrated and took over leadership of the diocese on June 6, 2020, barely a week after Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on his neck for over nine minutes.

Chauvin was fired along with three other officers, and last month he was convicted of murder and manslaughter. The work of healing, however, continues in the Twin Cities and its churches, Loya said, as the diocese confronts its own historic complicity with racist systems – and the racism still embedded today in American institutions, from police forces to churches, including The Episcopal Church and its congregations.

“It would be hard to overstate the trauma that the murder of George Floyd caused in the city of Minneapolis and beyond, and out of that trauma has come a real commitment to the long work of racial justice and healing,” Loya told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview last week as he and the wider church prepared to mark one year since Floyd’s death.

Loya and several other Episcopal bishops organized a virtual memorial service for Floyd scheduled to air at 8 p.m. EDT May 25 on Facebook. The other diocesan leaders are Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson, Michigan Bishop Bonnie Perry, Indianapolis Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and Colorado Bishop Kym Lucas. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry also is participating. The Episcopal Public Policy Network, meanwhile, issued an action alert on May 25 asking members to press Congress to pass the policing reforms contained in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Episcopal Public Policy Network: Urge Congress to Enact Police Reform[/perfectpullquote]

Last year, in response to a series of killings of African Americans by police and white vigilantes, The Episcopal Church awarded “rapid response” grants up to $10,000 to 33 ministries in dioceses across the church as part of the Becoming Beloved Community framework, its cornerstone racial reconciliation initiative. Executive Council, citing the police killings of Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, also approved $150,000 each for the dioceses of Minnesota and Kentucky to “support their continuing work of dismantling the systemic racism we have created in this country and still permeates our church and society.”

Minnesota is investing the money it received in its local Episcopal Service Corps chapter, a new diocesan worshipping community, a partnership with a new Twin Cities community organization and a new curriculum for anti-racism training specific to the state. Loya described these as “small immediate actions” that will grow into a more comprehensive plan for long-term reconciliation work.

“I was ordained as bishop of Minnesota about a week after George Floyd was murdered, in a cathedral that is not far from the place where he was murdered,” Loya said. “It was clear to me in those days that the work of racial justice and healing would need to be a central part of my work as bishop.”

Episcopalians and leaders across The Episcopal Church amplified the call to that work in the days and weeks after Floyd’s killing, and on April 20, after a jury convicted Chauvin, Curry joined Loya in a virtual Compline service and thanked Minnesota Episcopalians for their dedication to the cause of justice.

“You have been faithful through this journey, and many of you have marched and virtually all of you have prayed and you have stayed the course,” the presiding bishop said. “There is work yet to be done.”

Loya told ENS his diocese is following the four-part framework outlined in Becoming Beloved Community, which the church launched in 2017 as a resource for deepening conversations about the church’s historic complicity with slavery, segregation and racism.

Before Floyd’s death, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota had provided resources for its own congregations and parishioners to engage in conversations centered on Becoming Beloved Community, and in January 2018, church leaders relocated the diocesan offices to a building in an economically depressed neighborhood on the north side of Minneapolis, which diocesan leaders said moved the church closer to the communities it was called to serve.

To the south, in downtown Minneapolis, the diocese allowed the fledgling community organization Twin Cities Stand Together to move into the former building of Gethsemane Episcopal Church, a congregation that had disbanded in 2019. Twin Cities Stand Together now is using the church as a base for clothing, food and toy drives, with plans to turn its basement into a charity shop for families who are struggling economically. During Chauvin’s murder trial last month, Twin Cities Stand Together offered space in the church as a staging ground for Visual Black Justice, an arts and advocacy organization whose works were displayed around the courthouse.

The diocese provided $65,000 to help Twin Cities Stand Together get started, and with additional financial and volunteer support from the diocese, the organization’s future plans include a youth basketball program based in the church’s gym. “They’re doing extraordinary work,” Loya said, “building lots of partnerships in that neighborhood.”

The diocese’s new worshipping community, Transfiguration Minneapolis, is intended as a haven for people of color, members of the LGBTQ community and others who historically have felt excluded from The Episcopal Church. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Transfiguration’s first worship services were held online in January, and plans for in-person services are in the works.

“We also have a number of [existing] local congregations that are engaging this work in some really beautiful ways,” Loya said, and he singled out St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood for moving racial reconciliation to the center of the congregation’s mission.

Last fall, St. John’s formed a Racial Justice and Healing Steering Committee to guide the congregation in carrying out plans to pray, learn, act and connect. “We have come to the inescapable conviction that faithfully following Jesus in our time means to center the work of racial healing and justice in our church,” the congregation said in outlining those plans on its website.

Circle of the Beloved, an Episcopal Service Corps chapter in Minneapolis, will use money from the diocese’s racial reconciliation grant to maintain ongoing support for nonprofits in the Twin Cities. And the diocese, to develop a new anti-racism curriculum, is consulting with Catherine Meeks, executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing, and Heidi Kim, The Episcopal Church’s former racial reconciliation officer who now serves as a program director at an Episcopal school in the Twin Cities.

Loya also noted the diocese’s involvement with the Minnesota Council of Churches, which launched a 10-year Truth & Reparations initiative in October 2020. The program’s goal is “dismantling the structures and repairing the damage of racism in Minnesota,” dating back centuries to the dehumanization of Indigenous peoples and African slaves by European colonists.

In the Book of Common Prayer, the catechism calls on all Episcopalians “to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world,” and Loya said this is a ministry for all Christians. “The call to racial justice and healing is grounded in the good news of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Anyone who is a follower of Jesus is called to be engaged in the work of racial justice and healing.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.