FROM THE RECTOR
The Bell and Lantern
In Cumberland, Maryland, at the top of a hill stands Emmanuel Episcopal Church. Like many churches in that part of the United States, it is historic—the “New Church” was finished in 1851. In the mid to late 1800s the church sat at the hub of several transportation systems: Thomas Jefferson’s National Road emanated from Cumberland, the Baltimore and Ohio railway ran through the town.
But I write about this particular Episcopal Church because of a different railroad—the Underground Railroad. Part of the story of Emmanuel, Cumberland was told at our Wednesday 9:00 am Eucharist this week as we celebrated the feast day of four remarkable women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman. It was an incredible conversation, remembering these saints for their personal courage, unyielding persistence, and unshakable faith.
Each of them could and should have their own day of commemoration, as their lives were such beacons of hope in their generations. Celebrated as “Liberators and Prophets,” these four women grounded themselves in scripture, the stories of God’s people, to lead women and African-Americans to all kinds of freedom.
One of the consistent themes across their lives was persistence and perseverance. In facing entrenched systems that denied the personhood of African-Americans and women, they and many others had to overcome economic, cultural, and religious resistance. Through personal relationships, undeniable passion, remarkable courage, and even humor, they were able to rally people to see the world around them in new ways, ways that led to freedom and life for many who were literally and figuratively bound. But it took dedicated, sustained effort.
Another lesson that comes to us from their lives is that though they were recognized as leaders and icons, it is clear that they did not do this work alone. Stanton and Bloomer, Truth and Tubman, were leaders and strategists in movements that inspired many others into action—there were countless others across the nation that provided support and encouragement. Such is the case of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland, Maryland.
This part of Maryland was a slave-holding region of the United States. And yet, standing in the midst of a culture of de-humanization, Emmanuel also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Through the efforts of many, especially Samuel Denson, a man who escaped slavery in Mississippi and was hired as the Sexton of Emmanuel, those escaping slavery and heading north found safe haven at Emmanuel Church.
The oral histories passed down to us are that when those fleeing slavery came to the edge of town, they were told to wait at night by the railroad tracks. Denson would then use a special code of rings of the church bell and place a lantern at the gate to signify that people could come to the church to safety. A series of tunnels led to the church, and then to the Rectory, where they would spend the night, receiving food and support from the Rector of the parish and other abolitionists. Those on the “trail of souls” then exited the tunnels and were taken the four miles to the other side of the Mason-Dixon line as they made their way north.
It is clear from the world around us that though Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman were part of tremendous changes through their efforts, their struggle wasn’t over in their lifetimes—indeed the struggle of liberation they gave themselves to is still a struggle in our lives.
In our own time and day, there many rising up to meet the struggle for liberation that God inspires in every generation. Whether it is those who are fleeing violence and oppression in their native lands and seeking freedom in this country, or those who endure structural racism in this nation, the lives and witness of these four remarkable women show us that those engaged in the struggle for their human dignity cannot do this alone. They are not meant to struggle alone. Allies and companions are essential.
I’m told that the very lantern that Samuel Denson used to signal those bound for freedom still hangs at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland. May his witness and the courage, persistence, and wisdom of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman give us hope, so that we can take our part in this road to liberation, for all.
Giving Thanks for the Life of Don Strange
Please join together in giving thanks for the life of our brother Don Strange. His memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 6th at 11:00 am at All Souls. As you mourn his death, if you find you would like space to talk, process, or pray with another, please, reach out. As Phil wrote last week, suicide is an awful kind of loss, profoundly sad and overwhelming. Liz and Phil are glad to spend time with you as you grieve. Through it all, please keep Don’s family and friends, and this community, in your prayers.
A World Away in Big Sur
Last weekend, more than forty All Soulsians triumphed over Friday traffic to gather in Big Sur for our annual camping trip. The site itself is a delightful form of ministry: the Santa Lucia Campground is a great gift stewarded by All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Carmel. Tucked into a few swift turns in the Big Sur River, tents nestled under towering redwoods. All Soulsians of all ages played in the sandy river beach at the edge of the campground, rafted down the river, feasted, adventured along the coast, and came close the Holy. Here are a few of our memories from the weekend.
SAVE THE DATES NOW FOR THE 2016 PARISH RETREAT
Whether you’re brand new to the parish, or you attend every year, you will find this to be a special time for community building, spiritual growth and exploration at the Bishop’s Ranch in Healdsburg. This inter-generational event includes activities for children, youth (on parallel retreat), families, and adults. More information including the exact cost for this year will be shared soon, but in the meantime, put it on the calendar! It’s not to be missed.
“LET ME HELP”
Those words can bring a sigh of relief to people going through difficult times. A Stephen Minister could provide support by listening and being there while you work through this tough time. If you would like to explore this possibility, talk to any of the clergy or Nancy Austin 510-420-1533. Stephen Ministers are trained lay people who provide confidential, one-to-one care and support.