NEW YORK — The Episcopal Diocese of New York, at a moving service inside the Cathedral of St. John’s the Divine, issued a public apology Saturday for its role in the slave trade and acknowledged the need for reparations.
Bishop Andrew ML Dietsche delivered the message at an emotional two-plus hour gathering where he declared a simple apology was insufficient after the church conducted a lengthy look back at its mistreatment of those blacks brought to New York as slaves.
“This is a tipping point, this is a moment,” he told the Manhattan crowd assembled in the cathedral. “A new chapter. We see the opportunity to undo some and repair some of the harm which we have done to people of African descent.”
The bishop specifically offered an apology and the church took responsibility for the suffering of the enslaved in “the homes and businesses” of the church in New York. And he cited the need for “reparations and restoration,” specifically in repairing the breach within its ranks.
“We are sorry for living on endowed money reaped from the trafficking of other human beings,” he continued ” … We are sorry our church has profited from the dehumanization of people of African descent.”
“Have mercy on our souls,” the congregation responded.
Churchgoer Barbara Ortiz Howard, 70, said that she supported the diocese’s decision to apologize, but cautioned that his ceremony marks a beginning, not an end.
“I really appreciated the work they put into this to really bring the depth of the sin and meaning of it and the work that still is ahead,” she said. ”I really appreciated the thought of the long shadow of the image of slavery. It was moving. I felt the message shared today was powerful and that we have more work to do, but this was a start.”
Another church member, who would only identify himself as William, said that he was skeptical going into the cathedral today, but came out a believer.
“I was on the doubting side,” he said. “Are these people really serious? If you ain’t serious I don’t want to talk to you, but I just felt something inside myself today,” he said. ”If we haven’t figured some of this stuff out then you might as well hang it out, but I just felt really profoundly good about this moment.”
The service included the singing of the Black American spirituals “Wade in the Water” and “Guide My Feet,” along with a performance of reggae singer Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”