Carrying on the traditions of eloquence and tolerance
Canon Edward W. Rodman will be the seventh annual Burgess Memorial Preacher (named in honor of the late bishop of Massachusetts John Melville Burgess and his wife, the late Esther Taylor Burgess). He will preach at a special choral evensong at Trinity Chapel, Oak Bluffs, Sunday, July 16, at 5 pm. Canon Rodman is well known by many on the Vineyard.
In 1999, with the contributions of church men and women across the country, two newly designed stained glass windows were commissioned and installed at Grace Church, Vineyard Haven, as lasting memorial to John Burgess, the first African-American Diocesan Bishop, and Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African-American ordained Episcopal priest. Esther Burgess provided additional funds in support of the windows, which she hoped would encourage an atmosphere for discussion and education in the field of race relations, not only within the church but in the wider community. Her impetus led to the formation at Grace Church of the Burgess Committee. Esther's only mandate was that a preacher of color would be asked to visit Grace Church at some regular interval.
Canon Edward W. Rodman will be the Burgess Memorial Preacher.
Bishop Burgess's daughters, Julia Burgess and Margaret Harrison, remember their father as "a man of eloquence, patience, and tolerance. His faith in his church was reflected primarily through his work in urban ministry. He could relate to the urban poor ... [and] to those who opposed change in the Church ... We must respect the integrity of those who differ - the Church is big enough to contain all...."
"Our mother," Julia and Margaret write, "was always known for her witness in St. Augustine, Florida.... She wrote journals and diaries since she was a teenager in Canada.... When she was in jail in St. Augustine, she wrote down the names of over 30 women in jail with her. We have such a history to pass on ..."
Canon Edward W. Rodman
The Reverend Canon Rodman, BA, M Div., L.C.H.DD, known by many as Ed, has a long list of accomplishments. He graduated summa cum laude from Hampton Institute in Virginia. He became active in the Civil Rights movement as a field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality and as a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Having achieved several degrees and lived an activist life in both church and community, he continues as faculty member of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge since 2002.
In 1972 he was called to serve as an executive assistant to Bishop Burgess in the Diocese of Massachusetts for Race Relations, Urban Ministry and Outreach. A partial list of his activities includes community leadership development, prison reform, and coordination of the religious response to the Boston school desegregation crisis. He is the author of numerous publications, including "Soul Sisters: The Emergence of Black Women's Leadership" and "Seeking to Hear and to Heed in the Cities: Urban Ministry in the Post War Episcopal Church." From 1977 to 1979 he had his own commentary program on WEEI. The Presiding Bishop appointed him to the Board of Inquiry in 1974 that responded to charges stemming from the Philadelphia ordinations of women.
He says of himself, "For 37 years I have been privileged to minister in an urban context, working in partnership with a wide variety of community-based and religious coalitions concerned with the death penalty, criminal justice reform, public education, housing, community development, and anti-oppression training. It is this perspective that I bring to my teaching and my service to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church."
An interactive exercise
The "Witness" (http://thewitness.org/agw/rodman.121301.html) quotes Canon Rodman's description of a group exercise:
"I have been working the past several years with the Anti-Racism Program of the Episcopal Church. One of our most popular exercises, prior to September 11th, was a hypothetical terrorist attack. The premise was that your group is a special civil defense committee that has the task of picking six individuals from eleven persons to be granted shelter in order to survive an imminent terrorist attack. We usually give the groups working on this fifteen minutes, and then ask each group to report back on their lists, and how they made their decision. The trick in the exercise is that insufficient information is given about the eleven individuals so that an unwary group will make assumptions based on stereotypes and prejudices to fill in the missing information.
"For example, one person is a 50 year-old priest, another is a 20-year-old prostitute, and a 3rd is a Black militant with a gun. You will note the gender of each person is not identified and the information about one of the persons of color is suggestive. Needless to say, there are many learnings that come from this exercise relating to race, gender, and sexual orientation, especially if the primary criteria for survival is reproductive capacity. The problem is made more difficult given the final caution to the group that the future of the human race may depend on their decision.
"Every now and then a group will challenge the premise and seek ways in which all eleven people can survive. Rarely does a group use the criteria of the most vulnerable being given preference first. For example, others on the list are an 11 year-old mentally retarded boy, and a 25 year-old person with AIDS. The trick is to recognize that when we are put under pressure or subject to a crisis situation, the tendency is to revert to our subjective and often repressed feelings and attitudes about people different from ourselves. It is also true that traumatic events such as 9/11 slow down our thought processes and push us in the direction of identifying the other as evil and ourselves as good, thereby allowing no room for diversity opinion or shades of gray."
Canon Rodman tells more of his experience working the anti-racism "terrorism" exercise with a group of clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, many of whom had been in Trinity Church (Wall Street) at Ground Zero during 9/11. To his surprise they were eager to work the exercise and did so with "great integrity and clarity" even in such proximity to their own life or death situation at Ground Zero. However, they changed the exercise (in the wake of 9/11) in terms of their actual experiences "in regard to the role of race in the selection for and availability of support to persons of color and other vulnerable members of society. The point of [the] story is that "in times of crisis and fear the fundamental fault lines of distrust and repression are exposed, and the human tendency to revert to our basic instincts and learnings about differences are brought to the fore. While it may be true that the spotlight of racial profiling may now be placed upon young Arab-looking men, it has not been removed from other people of color who 'fit' the profile defined by the powers that be."
Canon Rodman's presence at Trinity Chapel on next Sunday should be an exciting, if not provocative experience. The premise of Grace Church's Burgess Committee is that the more white people and people of color talk together, the better each will understand the other, and the prejudices and learned behavior which accentuate the differences will tend gradually to soften if not disappear.
Russell Hoxsie, a retired physician, lives in Chilmark. He writes the Off North Road column for The Times and is a member of the Grace Church congregation.