Episcopal churches nationwide to host special activities to commemorate and celebrate Juneteenth

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Jun 14, 2023

Marchers in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 19, 2021 marked the city’s 2nd annual Juneteenth Commemoration. Churches and dioceses across The Episcopal Church will host a variety of events to mark Juneteenth this year. Photo: Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP

[Episcopal News Service] Dioceses and churches across The Episcopal Church have announced activities marking Juneteenth – June 19 – which commemorates the date in 1865 that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure that all enslaved people in the state were freed. This came more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, but the order couldn’t be enforced everywhere until after the end of the Civil War on April 9, 1865.

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth Independence Day or Freedom Day, became a national holiday when President Joe Biden signed legislation on June 17, 2021, making it the first new national holiday adopted since 1983, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created. While Texas and more than two dozen other states already observed Juneteenth as a state holiday, interest in a federal holiday was renewed in the summer of 2020, during months of racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and a number of other Black people. On June 13 Biden  hosted a concert on the White House lawn to celebrate Juneteenth and to mark Black Music Month.

As the home of Juneteenth, the city of Galveston provides a virtual Juneteenth Freedom Walk Tour, where participants can learn about five historic sites in the city and their importance to the holiday.

On a reflection entitled “Juneteenth and the Call to Remember” on The Episcopal Church website, the Rev. Willis Foster Sr., canon for diversity in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and Edna Johnston, a member of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Richmond, Virginia, and the principal of History Matters, note that it is important for Episcopalians to mark this holiday. “Juneteenth reminds us that we must try to understand and talk about American slavery and its legacies. This includes talking and teaching about slavery in our history books, churches, and political discourse. It means remembering the histories of those who were enslaved here in North America and those who have continued to experience and confront racial injustice.”

As an additional resource, Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson in 2021 wrote collects for Juneteenth that others also can use.

The following is a list of some Juneteenth events hosted by Episcopal churches and dioceses. Check online for additional events hosted by local dioceses and parishes.

Episcopal Diocese of Newark – On June 17 and again on June 19, beginning at 9 a.m. Eastern, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark is hosting half-day pilgrimages to sites in the diocese with a historical link to slavery. Leading the pilgrimage will be Bishop Carlye Hughes, and the events are being coordinated by the justice groups of the diocese.

Episcopal Diocese of Long Island – A Juneteenth Jubilee ceremony and reception is being sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island on June 17 at 1 p.m. Eastern at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City. As part of the ceremony, the Diocesan Reparations Committee will present awards to the 16 students who have been selected as the 2023 Barbara C. Harris Scholars. The scholarship fund was established in 2022 by the diocese’s Reparations Committee. The event is open to the public, but registration is required.

All Saints ChurchAll Saints, Portland, Oregon, on June 17 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific, is hosting a Black Business Fair in conjunction with the Voices Project.

Episcopal Diocese of Olympia – The Black/African American Circle of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia is offering a Juneteenth liturgy and potluck barbecue on June 17 at noon Pacific at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. The worship service will feature poetry, music and dance by local African American artists. Registration is requested for the barbecue lunch.

St. Augustine’s ChurchSt. Augustine’s, Oakland, California on June 17 from 1-5 p.m. Pacific will offer an exploration of how the church and the Black Panther Party have worked to serve the community together, along with live music and displays from Black-owned businesses. The event is free but registration is required.

Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles – A service will take place on June 17 at 3 p.m. Pacific at St. John’s Cathedral in Los Angeles sponsored by the Diocese of Los Angeles’ Program Group on Black Ministry and the H. Belfield Hannibal Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians. The service will include spirituals and gospel music as well as African drumming and song. The event is open to all; suggested dress is festal white or African patterns.

All Saints’ ChurchAll Saints, Frederick, Maryland, after the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern worship services on June 18 will offer fellowship and refreshments sponsored by the parish’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

Trinity ChurchTrinity Church Wall Street, in New York City, will host a June 18 “Celebration for Children and Families” from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Eastern. The event will include a picnic, book swap and interactive read-aloud of Alice Faye Duncan’s “Opal Lee And What It Means To Be Free,” which will engage discussion of the reflective and joyous nature of the holiday. All families will take home a copy of the book.

Good Shepherd ChurchGood Shepherd, Tryon, North Carolina on June 18 after the 10 a.m. Eastern worship service will gather outside the church for a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.  On June 19, the church bell will be rung to mark Juneteenth.

Washington National Cathedral – The 11:15 a.m. Eastern service of Holy Eucharist on June 18 at Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C., will have as guest preacher U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at the historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and music from the Cathedral’s Contemporary Worship Ensemble. The service also can be viewed online. At 1:30 p.m. a forum on “Shaping a New Tomorrow” will be offered as part of the cathedral’s racial justice initiatives. The Juneteenth celebrations are sponsored by the Cathedral College of Faith & Culture.

Grace CathedralGrace Cathedral, San Francisco, California, will observe Juneteenth during the June 18 Choral Eucharist that begins at 11 a.m. Pacific. Guest preacher at the service will be Don Tamaki, a San Francisco-based attorney, a proponent of Black/Asian allyship, co-founder of Stop Repeating History and a member of the California State Task Force on Reparations. Artist in Residence Bobby McFerrin and his ensemble Motion will provide music.

St. Alban’s ChurchSt. Alban’s, Albany, California from 4-6 p.m. Pacific on June 18 will host a celebration of fatherhood and freedom featuring recording artist Herman Harper II at the church as a benefit for Albany Thrives Together. Tickets can be purchased online.

St. Peter’s and St. John’s ChurchesSt. Peter’s and St. John’s, both in Richmond, Virginia, are hosting a joint gathering on June 19 beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern at the Peter Paul Development Center. The event begins with worship and commemoration, featuring Virginia Assistant Bishop Gayle Harris, followed by a performance by the Elegba Folklore Society, then lunch, games and fellowship. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required for those who plan to stay for lunch.

Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri – On June 19 the Diversity and Reconciliation Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of West Missouri is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Park Central Square in Springfield, Missouri, the site of the April 1906 lynching of three African American men: Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and William Allen. A bus will be leaving Kansas City at 9 a.m. Central. In Springfield’s Park Central Square from noon to 1:30 p.m. Central, there will be a series of speakers and a litany written by Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson. From 1:30–3 p.m. Central, lunch and discussion will take place at Christ Church, Springfield.

Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts – On June 19 at 3 p.m. Eastern, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is hosting a multicultural Juneteenth celebration that also will commemorate the Feast of Bernard Mizeki. It will take place at St. Mark’s Church in Dorchester.

St. Mark’s ChurchSt. Mark’s, Huntersville, North Carolina, on June 19 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern will host a Juneteenth remembrance service at the McCoy Slave Cemetery, a place where people enslaved by Albert McCoy, who was a member of St. Mark’s, are buried. Transportation to the cemetery will leave the church at 5 p.m., and a reception will follow the service. The event also will be livestreamed.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance writer and former director of communications for the Diocese of Kansas.