Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation recalled at church unity service
BY LINDLEY ESTES
More than 300 people walked the five blocks from St. George’s Episcopal Church, past the slave auction block at the corner of William and Charles streets, and down to the rose garden outside the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center.
Their journey in downtown Fredericksburg was in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The proclamation, drafted in January 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, freed about 3 million of the nation’s slaves in Confederate territory.
On Saturday, the document was the centerpiece of St. George’s service, “From Repentance to Hope: A Service of Remembrance, Celebration and Witness.”
The event concluded with the dedication of a statue commissioned by St. George’s and given to the city to honor the proclamation.
The church organized the event along with Shiloh Baptist Old Site church to commemorate the anniversary, ask for forgiveness for the sin of slavery and reach out to the larger community.
Members of both churches collaborated in preaching, reading the proclamation, and in choir, drum and dance performances.
The service at St. George’s was punctuated with reflections by three ministers and the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States.
Schori spoke about how the work of emancipation is not over.
“Emancipation is not one act in time,” she said. “Emancipation is another word for ongoing resurrection. We must re-encounter it every day of our lives.”
She told those assembled that even though slavery officially ended 150 years ago, the indignities of suppression linger and that no one is free until “all of us can enjoy the blessings of this life.”
After the service, participants walked from the church, past the slave auction block, to the museum to dedicate the sculpture, “Jubilee,” by artist and former Fredericksburg resident Ayokunle Odeleye.
The sculpture is meant to show a different side of Fredericksburg’s black history, characterized by freedom–with bronze arms releasing a dove into the sky.
Lori Lewis of Fredericksburg grew up in the same neighborhood as Odeleye, in Mayfield. Even though she did not know him, she said she heard stories about him from her brother and friends and wanted to see his artwork.
“The acknowledgement of what happened brings people together,” she said. “And it tells me we are still moving forward.”
Also attending were Jenee’ Gilchrist of Richmond and Munira El-Bearny of Spotsylvania.
Gilchrist is the vice president of the Virginia Council of Churches.
“It’s important to me,” she said. “It’s part of my history.”
El-Bearny attends the Islamic Center in Fredericksburg and said the message of unity spoke to her.
“It doesn’t matter what faith, we’re all equal,” she said.
Pamela Mann and Bob Lowry sat in the same pew during the service.
The pair struck up a conversation about what they felt was the message: unity.
“The people who preached were wonderful,” Lowry said.
Mann described the walk like “being a part of history.”
“It has felt like a healing of many wounds on many levels,” she said.
Cinde Hoffman walked with the group along with her sons, Henry, 17; Edward, 14; and Levi, 12; and her neighbor, Carole DuBois.
Edward is a ninth grader at James Monroe High School. He said he gained a deeper understanding of emancipation.
At the dedication of the statue, Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw said, “It is fitting we celebrate with public art done by a native son,” and called the piece a reminder that we are a nation of free people.
Schori also planned to hold a forum Saturday night at St. George’s on interfaith relationships and community, women’s empowerment and world peace.
“Emancipation is a process that continues to unfold,” Schori said. “We’re not there yet.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976