Social Justice Ministry
Why Does Immanuel Have a Social Justice Ministry? Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill’s history of social justice engagement dates to the 1960s and includes issues of civil rights. refugee resettlement, and ministry to Native Americans; a major financial and parish-wide commitment to outreach locally, regionally and internationally since the 1990s; and a strong and growing creation care ministry.
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Immanuel's Vestry initiated a new social justice ministry, focused initially on racial justice and on looking inward, learning and dialogue. We had listening sessions with many people in the parish from diverse demographic backgrounds and political perspectives and the Vestry made this a priority, creating two Vestry Co-Steward positions for Social Justice. It was clear from the beginning in Vestry discussions and listening sessions that while racial justice motivated the new ministry, there were other areas of social justice meriting engagement as well. Our current focus on criminal justice and mass incarceration embodies this concern for both racial justice (given severe racial disparities in criminal justice and incarceration) as well as concern for all those affected by the current system.
What Is Our Vision for Social Justice? Immanuel’s commitment to social justice is grounded in our Baptismal covenant of “working for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being” and on Jesus’s commitment to love and justice for those marginalized by society. The Vestry’s vision for the social justice ministry is available HERE.
Activities and Commitments to Date: The year 2021 was the first full year of the Social Justice ministry. During this time we have started “Telling the Truth” and “Proclaiming the Dream.” You can see the 2021 annual report HERE. A Social Justice committee formed to identify and implement priorities intended to carry social justice and Becoming Beloved Community into the fabric of every aspect of parish life and of who we are as a parish.
In 2021, we created several learning and dialogue spaces. Twenty=two parishioners (including one of our three clergy and both Social Justice Co-Stewards) have participated in the national Episcopal Church program of parish-based Sacred Ground dialogue circles looking deeply at the racial history of the United States and exploring family history and identity in dialogue. A second of our three clergy led a Bible study on conquest, respect for racial differences and indigenous people, and alternative readings of Old Testament history in a Joshua bible study, continuing into later 2021 with other readings from Native American and feminist Christians, with a new discussion on criminal justice and scripture starting in early 2022. And a number of parishioners participated in Alexandria City Councilman Chapman Manumission Tours of some of the hidden racial history of the city. These activities have created a core of people eager to take this ministry more broadly into the parish.
Several events have taken place to more fully integrate social justice into the fabric of Immanuel, including forum hours on: the theological underpinnings of the civil rights movement (by Father Randy); parishioners' experience with Sacred Ground and the Joshua study; falsehoods involved in the sometimes worshipful status that Robert E. Lee continues to hold, by U.S. Army General (ret.) Ty Seidule; and on language, gender, race and worship (the Rev. Dr. Frank Wade). The anniversary of the murder of George Floyd was commemorated with the unveiling of a new banner outside at Immanuel ("Love Your Neighbor/Fight Racism"), and with a service of remembrance. We are also developing or deepening what we hope will be long-term social justice partnerships, including Offender Aid and Restoration, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and Alleyne AME Zion Church, among others.
Support to Criminal Justice Reform and to Prisoners and Their Families: As a parish it’s clear we need to continue to learn, tell the truth, proclaim the dream and look inward at ourselves and the institutions of which we are part. But at the same time, we now must begin looking, and taking action, in an outward direction as well. This has led us, initially, to a focus on criminal justice and mass incarceration and to begin to identify and act on both the advocacy and the support roles that Immanuel can play with respect to those in prison or jail and those returning to the community. The social justice issues of racial justice and care for those marginalized by society come together in the current criminal justice system, a system that Jesus specifically addressed when he called on us to care about those in prison (Mat 25) and saw himself as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy to “set the captives free.” With the highest percentage of incarcerated people in the world, with one in five people having been caught up in the criminal justice system, and with severe racial disparities in arrest and sentencing, the criminal justice system is widely seen across the political spectrum as being in need or reform. At the same time, those currently incarcerated, and their families, need our prayers and support. There are many ways for Immanuel parishioners, even with very limited time commitment, to get involved in supporting people caught up in the system and advocating for a more just system. You can find how you might consider getting involved HERE.
Advocating for Justice and Coordination with Outreach Committee: Coordination with Outreach is a strong element of the social justice ministry, with members of the Outreach leadership team participating on the Social Justice Committee. One difference in emphasis between outreach and social justice sometimes revolves around the difference between mercy and justice. Much of Immanuel’s commitment to outreach focuses on mercy, on providing support to the many needs of those we are called to serve, and organizations that meet those needs, locally, nationally and internationally. The social justice ministry from the beginning has seen its work as building on and complementing Immanuel’s longstanding and very strong Outreach ministry, with some greater weight in the balance in part towards justice - identifying institutional, policy or legal impediments to racial and social justice which Immanuel may be called to address. As a result of extensive discussions within the social justice committee through much of 2021 and then with the Vestry in Fall 2021, the Vestry approved a resolution supporting and outlining approaches to social justice advocacy on behalf of Immanuel. We anticipate that we will have a focus on state, local, and/or regional (DMV) issues of criminal justice reform, in alignment with our national Episcopal Church grant and plans for the coming year. In particular, we anticipate coming back before the Vestry in early 2022 to highlight the advocacy opportunities in Virginia related to the issues of prolonged solitary confinement and pre-trial detention.
RESOURCES, LEARNING, and
The following Forum Hours on Social Justice took place in 2021:
NEWS and APPEALS
Social Justice Committee:
The Immanuel Social Justice Committee comprises people across the parish concerned with social justice, racial reconciliation and racial justice. All three clergy, leadership from the Outreach Committee, and Vestry members are active participants.
Action Item: Please consider joining the Social Justice Committee. All are welcome. We meet the fourth Tuesday of each month from 7:30-9:00 PM.
Criminal Justice Grant:
Over a number of years, several clergy and parishioners have engaged in individual efforts to be part of Jesus’s call to “visit me while I was in prison,” to “set the captives free,” and to “let justice roll down like waters.” With Father Randy’s encouragement, the Social Justice Committee submitted a proposal in April to the national church to deepen Immanuel’s engagement in advocating for criminal justice reform and in supporting those behind bars, their families, and those coming back into the community, with a strong element of deeper education of our own parish on these issues. Last month Immanuel was awarded a $6,000 grant to begin this work. A committee comprising Karen Besser, Jamie Conrad, Katherine Smith, David Atwood, and Kathryn Jackson Haskin has done initial planning, and we have reached out to potential partners including Offender Aid and Restoration, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and Alleyne AME Zion Church in Old Town. A short summary of the grant is available HERE.
Action Item: We now seek your support. Would you consider praying for those in prison, for prison guards and administration, and for a more just and merciful criminal justice system locally and in Virginia; for those you know who are in any way part of or affected by the criminal justice system; for the Social Justice Committee and our clergy as we begin to use this grant to help those affected by incarceration while trying to support a more just system; and for your own possible calling to this ministry -- or at least to learn more about it -- in confidence (not fear) of where the Lord may be leading you.
Ways to Explore Getting Involved in Criminal Justice and Support to Prisoners and Those Coming Out of Prison: There are many ways, some with very low, one-time levels of commitment, for you to get involved in supporting Immanuel’s commitment to criminal justice reform and to those affected by incarceration and their families, either on your own or with others. See this matrix with links to many different kinds of opportunities.
Sacred Ground Dialogue Circle
Sacred Ground offers a safe space to learn and be in dialogue about experiences, feelings, and concerns regarding personal identity, racial history and reconciliation, and justice. It has been developed by the national Episcopal Church and “field tested” by two groups of 22 Immanuelites in 2021 and early 2022. (If you want to talk to some of them or ask them questions, feel free to contact Katherine Smith, Marilynn Wilson, Mary Ann Ring, or Nancy Reuschel.) Ten small group sessions -- based on intensive reading and film viewing homework -- review chapters of America’s history of race and racism, while weaving in threads of family story, economic class, and political and regional identity. More details are available here.
Action item: Please consider signing up for the upcoming Sacred Ground dialogue circle, which will be weekly from April 24 through June 27 and facilitated by Chrissie Crosby.
Please contact David Atwood or Kathryn Haskin to sign up. Thank you.