From Repentance to Hope



Historic St. George Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia was packed Saturday, February 16, for a special gathering of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The event, “From Repentance to Hope: A Service of Remembrance, Celebration and Witness,”  was a commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of The Emancipation Proclamation, when, with the stroke of a pen, President Abraham Lincoln freed all slaves in these United States of America.


From start to finish of Saturday’s service, each aspect was more moving that the last. During the beginning procession, a red flag was attached to the top of a long pole which swept over the heads of the congregants. We read in the program:

About the Red Flag in the Procession
From the Illustrated London News (February 16, 1861), vol. 38.p.139 (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library) “The auction rooms for the sale of Negroes are situated in the main streets, and are generally the ground floors of the building, the entrance-door open straight into the street, and the sale room is similar to any other auction room . . . plackards, adverstisements, and notices as to the business carried on are dispensed with, the only indication of the trade being a small red flag hanging from the front door post, and a piece of paper upon which is written . . . this simple announcement – ‘Negroes for sale at auction’ . . .

The Right Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, our Diocesan Bishop began with these words:

Dear people of God: descendants of slaves, descendants of slave masters, and all who have benefited from the systems of slavery and structures of racism, we stand together to express our most profound acknowledgement and regret that the Episcopal Church lent the institution of slavery its support and justification based on scripture, and after slavery was formally abolished, continued for at least a century to benefit from and to support de jure and de facto segregation, discrimination, and racism. The Diocese of Virginia gathers to apologize for its complicity in the institution of slavery and to repent of the injuries done in its aftermath. With God’s grace we will amend our lives, committing ourselves to opposing the sin of racism in personal and public life. We will seek to create a community of liberation and justice.

I don’t know about all of you, but there’s something powerful when an institution takes responsibility for its own actions. It sets us up and frees us to follow the excellent example set before us. Today, we must do all we can to treat every individual equally and to do all we can to promote the dignity of every human being on earth. And as we all know, like all family values, equality and promoting the dignity of all human beings begin at home. Pray that we set the right example, the example of Jesus who called us all sister and brother.

The Most Rev. KatharineJefferts Shori, our Presiding Bishop gave the sermon. [2/18/2013 Click here to read her sermon.]

After the Service we marched around several city blocks, walking past the old city Slave Block where slaves were sold, finally stopping back at St. George’s where a new statue was dedicated in honor of the occasion. I’ve stood at the slave block before and each time I do I still shudder to think slavery was a part of our past. We all know that a different form of slavery still exists today in the trafficking of human beings, mostly for the sex trade, so our work must go on.

Fredericksburg resident and nationally renowned artist, Ayokunle Odeleye, creates a sculpture to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation for St. George's Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Fredericksburg resident and nationally renowned artist, Ayokunle Odeleye, creates a sculpture to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation for St. George’s Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, Virginia.


If you’d like a copy of the entire program used today, please click here

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  May we all do everything we can to work towards such justice in our lifetime.

Peace friends,



1 Comment

  • Barbara says:

    Martin Luther King also said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    Thank you for this report and for the link to the entire program, it is a beautiful service and one certainly to be shared.

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