February is celebrated as Black History Month—and this February, the Anglican Journal makes note of that tradition by turning its attention to Black and African Christians inside and outside of the Anglican Church of Canada.
We begin with an exploration of the language that we use in church—often tied to Scripture—that treats darkness and blackness as negative qualities. For insight on this subject, the Journal spoke with Lutheran and United Church of Canada leaders who have worked to disconnect words like “dark” and “black” from evil and “light” and “white” from goodness. We look again to the United Church as we report on a public conversation between its general secretary, the Rev. Michael Blair, and National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald about how the church can decolonize itself around issues affecting Black Canadian Christians, including theology grants and the creation of an African-Canadian theological institution.
The impact of Black Anglicans on the life of the church can be seen all over the world—with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa reminding us of the more recent history of institutionalized anti-Black racism and how the church can stand against it. To learn about that history—as well as the role that racial capitalism plays in the life of present-day South Africa, the Journal spoke at length with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, archbishop of Cape Town and primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Looking back towards North America and its own history of racism, we consider the life of Absalom Jones, the first Black priest of the Episcopal Church. Jones fought for his freedom—and for ordination—and paved the way for many that would follow in the fight against slavery and for the well-being of his neighbours. And to understand the overall impact of Black Christian lives on North America, the Journal sought the reflections of Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, and Canon Stephen Fields, incumbent at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Thornhill, Ont., and founding chair of the diocese of Toronto’s Black Anglicans Coordinating Committee. Both priests spoke to the way that Black faith has held the church and society to account for worldly injustice.
One of the theological questions raised in discussing race and racism’s present impacts on our world is, “How might we better see God in one another?” The Journal asked a few leaders in the Anglican Church of Canada to respond to this question. In “White Jesus and Me,” Catherine Pate, director of communications for the diocese of Islands and Inlets (British Columbia), reflects on the ways in which Anglicans have struggled to welcome certain kinds of people into faith communities—especially to positions of authority and leadership. Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, similarly suggests ways for Anglicans to set aside culturally rooted expectations of both the church and of God, while Archbishop MacDonald ponders the relationship between identity and idolatry. We also hear from Canon Scott Sharman, the church’s animator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, on seeing God through the seeking of others.
As usual, the Journal offers a few items of news from throughout the church. In this issue, we learn about a new pandemic-era resource for theological reflection on Eucharistic and sacramental theology; the election and consecration of a new bishop in Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador; a parish merger in Regina; home baptisms in Moosonee; and reporting on an Anglican Foundation of Canada-funded program that helps Toronto children with homework and study. The issue closes with a remembrance of Canon Angus Sewap, a Saskatchewan-based priest who recently died from complications of COVID-19.
Finally, and on an editorial note, I will say that Black Lives Matter—though the pages of the Anglican Journal probably haven’t consistently delivered that message. Unfortunately, this might be said of many groups of people who have been conspicuously absent from the life of the Journal. If you have spent years reading the Journal but have never truly felt represented in its pages, I ask for your forgiveness and your wisdom. If you’d like, please help me by reaching out and sharing your experience at [email protected]. I want us to be better.
It’s my hope that this issue is a start of something new—not just a “Black History Month Special” but an attempt at reformulating our reporting, reconsidering our assumptions about the church, and re-thinking the nature of God.
—Matthew Townsend, editor