‘It’s All About Love’ offers lessons in engaging in racial reconciliation work at community level

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jul 11, 2023

[Episcopal News Service — Baltimore, Maryland] Justice is the body of love, Kwok Pui Lan said, and it’s too late to wait until after dying and going to heaven to work toward reconciliation.

“Justice is not something abstract,” Kwok, dean’s professor of systematic theology at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, said July 10 as she led the opening of the second day of It’s All About Love: A Festival for the Jesus Movement. The morning featured worship and a plenary session on racial reconciliation titled “Awake, Arise, Act: Racial Reconciliation Now,” setting the tone of the festival for the day.

Kwok Pui Lan

Emory University theology professor Kwok Pui Lan speaks July at the It’s All About Love festival in Baltimore, Maryland, as seen on a video of the session.

Hundreds of Episcopalians from all of the church’s nine provinces have traveled to Baltimore for four days of learning, fellowship and worship at It’s All About Love. The July 9-12 festival, held at the Baltimore Convention Center, features more than 90 unique presentations, workshops and plenaries organized around themes of evangelism, racial reconciliation and creation care.

The second day’s racial reconciliation theme was carried through workshops focused on different aspects of justice issues,  from Healing the Cultural Divide Between Indigenous Peoples and The Episcopal Church, a workshop presented by the Rev. Bradley Hauff, missioner for Indigenous Ministries; to Criminal Justice Reimagined, presented by the Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart, a former law enforcement officer and a priest in the Diocese of Washington, and the Rev. Walter Brownridge, canon to the ordinary for cultural transformation in the Diocese of Vermont.

“What kind of embodiment that we have and embrace matters not only to ourselves, but matters to God,” Kwok said during the morning plenary. “We who belong to the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement need to be part of that reconciling power of the spirit.”

Also on July 10, the Rev. Molly James, General Convention’s deputy executive officer, and Delia Heck, an environmental science professor at Ferrum College in Virginia who serves on the Task Force on Care of Creation and Environmental Racism, presented a workshop titled “Data that Makes a Difference: Using Neighborhood Data to Inform Justice Work” to teach attendees how to use data and online tools — several available through the General Convention office — to learn more about the communities around them, including but not limited to parochial report data and U.S. census data. Episcopalians can use the data to help congregations and dioceses engage in more informed justice work.

Some of the workshops incorporated a combination of themes, such as the environmental racism and “allyship” workshop presented by Alaura Carter, program manager of the Climate Speakers Network team at the Climate Reality Project, and her colleague Rachel Lea Scott, the network’s and program’s faith outreach associate. Environmental racism — also known as environmental inequality, ecological racism or ecological apartheid — is a form of institutional racism where environmental hazards, such as landfills, power plants, hazardous waste disposal facilities and incinerators, are purposefully and disproportionately located in poor communities usually predominately populated by people of color. In those communities, residents are more likely to live in housing contaminated with lead or infested with pests, or both.

During the environmental racism and allyship workshop, Carter and Scott provided examples of poor communities of color in the United States that are facing systemic environmental inequality. A couple of examples mentioned:

Manchester in southeast Houston, Texas, is a predominantly Latino community that’s harmed by pollution from dozens of oil and gas refineries, chemical plants, sewage, car-crushing facilities and hazardous cargo areas.

An 85-mile stretch of land in Louisiana between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as “Cancer Alley” accounts for a quarter of petrochemical production in the United States, which has led to a significantly higher rate of cancer caused by air pollution, earning the area a second moniker “Death Alley.” Most of the cancer victims residing in “Cancer Alley” are Black.

Carter and Scott told attendees that building relationships and standing in solidarity with residents living in communities harmed by environmental racism and using any platforms available to speak up against racial injustice are some ways for Episcopalians to be good allies.

“Building trust is key to building power and knowing that you’ll show up for each other,” Scott said during the workshop. “We can align our advocacy with the needs and demands of people living [environmental racism] experiences, and some of the practical ways to do that, very simply, may be through sharing information, or talking to people that could share information through a church newsletter or Sunday bulletin.”

Attendees were also invited to participate in a community walk centered around the Stations of the Cross to learn about The Episcopal Church’s historic complicity in racism and white supremacy and what congregations can do to continue racial reconciliation progress within the church. The Rev. Grey Maggiano, rector of Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood, and Anthony Francis, minister for justice and reparations at Memorial Episcopal Church, led the community walk.

An interactive, multi-sensory prayer room made up of curated prayer stations remained open to attendees throughout the day, along with an eco-grief prayer room.

The day concluded with an evening revival worship service emphasizing creation care and hosted by the Rev. Mariama White-Hammon, chief of environment, energy and open space for the city of Boston, Massachusetts.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.