This past weekend I had the joy of being present at the ordination and consecration as Bishop of Virginia of my former student, faculty assistant, and later colleague in ministry, Mark Stevenson. He brings many gifts to his new diocese and to the wider Church, among them his deep spiritual grounding, his capacity as a professional administrator, and his ability in nurturing and sustaining relationships. His consecration was a beautiful liturgy, enhanced by the powerful words and prayerful leadership of our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry.
Bishop Curry’s sermon focused on the reconciling power of love, and he drew our attention to a monumental statue in the downtown area of Richmond. Given the recent removal of Civil War-related statuary from Monument Avenue in that city, this was an auspicious reference for him to make. Then, through what he shared, we learned that there are three such statues: this one in Richmond; another in Liverpool, England; and the third in Ghana, the source point for many of the slaves transported to the New World during the slave trade.
Making Bishop Curry’s reference to these three statues more meaningful was his brief elucidation of the the ‘Triangle,’ the classic slave route wherein slaves from central west Africa were removed from their homelands; their transport to Richmond and similar New World ports for sale; the subsequent loading of those ships with crops such as sugar, cotton, and tobacco; the transport of those goods to ports in the Old World like Liverpool; and then upon the sale of those goods, another trip down to Ghana and the Benin coast for a further shipload of slaves. And underscoring the significance of these facts was the presence at that consecration by the Bishop of Ghana and the Bishop of Liverpool.
The offering collected at that liturgy was designated for the benefit of a compelling new fund to enable young persons to retrace the steps of the Triangle, for the sake of insight and learning.
The Richmond version of the Reconciliation monument sits in a location that seems incongruous at first. It is tucked into a relatively small plaza, with large downtown buildings behind it, and a freeway overpass and the historic Richmond rail depot across the street from it. But then, upon looking at the additional background information provided by interpretive plaques and signs, a visitor discovers that the placement of this monument was deliberate, putting it on the trail that slaves in the process of being sold would have walked, from the James River bank, to the markets where their fate would be determined.
Note, in the above photo of a marker set in the concrete pathway, how the slaves on their way to market are portrayed chained together by the neck. And how in the photo at the top, the slave ships and their human cargo are depicted on a lower panel of the monument.
Bishop Curry added a significant insight about these three Reconciliation monuments. The most important thing they communicate, though rooted in particular histories of particular peoples, is that the figures represented cannot be categorized by race or ethnicity, nor by biological sex or gender identity. Instead, they portray what it means to be human in the most basic and best sense. And how we make our selves and our communities more whole when we practice reconciliation through loving one another.
Here it is important to remember that love and reconciliation are not just the fruit of feelings; they are rooted in choice and in a decision to enact what one comes to know is true. A paraphrase from St. Augustine: ‘Do you know what you love?’ ‘Do you love what you know?’