Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What are the particular concerns and issues of racial minorities in a predominantly white denomination? Since the middle of the nineteenth century, Episcopalians of African descent have created national organizations that voiced their concerns and perspectives to the larger Episcopal Church and shrewdly advocated for full inclusion. Today, this role is fulfilled by the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE), which was originally established as the Union of Black Clergy and Laity in 1968. As the Assistant Archivist for the African American Episcopal Historical Collection (AAEHC), a joint project of Virginia Theological Seminary and the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church, I am currently attending the 45th Annual Meeting and Conference of the UBE in Jacksonville, Florida.

Not only does the AAEHC send a representative to the UBE conference each year, but it also sends an exhibit. In conjunction with the theme of this year’s conference, Equipping Servant Leaders for Urban Ministry, the title of our exhibit is Equipping Servant Leaders with Lessons from History: Urban Ministry in the Episcopal Church. It features urban-themed works of art by Allan Rohan Crite, as well as items that document the urban ministries of several individuals, including the Rt. Rev. Arthur B. Williams, Jr., the Rev. Canon Thomas W. S. Logan, Sr., and the Rev. Franklyn I. A. Bennett. Additionally, the exhibit displays materials related to the Urban Bishops Coalition and the Episcopal Urban Caucus.

Over 200 Episcopalians of African descent from around the country are participating in this year’s conference. Every conversation I have at the exhibit table offers the opportunity not only to share a piece of history but also to build relationships and networks that will affect how the collection will grow and be used in the future. As many at VTS are aware, I spend a good deal of time tucked away in the quiet atmosphere of Bishop Payne Library, but archivists also get out and build community. What a pleasure to do so at this event. 

Joseph Thompson
Assistant Archivist for the African American Episcopal Historical Collection