Rev. William J. Barber II, Poor People's Campaign co-chair, speaks during a prayer vigil outside St. John's Episcopal Church in D.C. on June 14. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)
Rev. William J. Barber II, Poor People's Campaign co-chair, speaks during a prayer vigil outside St. John's Episcopal Church in D.C. on June 14. (Hamil R. Harris/The Washington Informer)

The leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington hosted an ecumenical prayer vigil Sunday afternoon at historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, calling for unified action amid the ongoing national furor over racial equality and police reform.

As newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza buzzed with peaceful protesters, T-shirt vendors and tourists, religious leaders converged on the nearby church, where a Bible-wielding President Trump walked to earlier this month from the White House for a much-maligned photo-op.

“We have an opportunity to change some things in our country and our world that have been crying out for change for a very long time,” Episcopal Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said in announcing the vigil, which brought together members of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu communities. “Outrage is not enough. People of faith must unite in action to drive lasting change for justice and healing in our country.”

Imam Talib M. Shareef, leader of the Nation’s Mosque Masjid Muhammad in Northwest, also prayed, saying, “we are living at a critical time and critical moment and the stakes have never higher.”

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church prayed about what she said is a critical time in the country’s history and the need for people to change their hearts.

“We are not accountable for the racism, white supremacy oppression of nations past,” Easterling said. “But oh, Holy God, we are accountable for the racism, white supremacy and oppression perpetuated today.”

The nation has been engulfed in racially charged turmoil since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis. His death was the catalyst for massive, sometimes violent demonstrations worldwide, including in the District, calling for an end to police brutality and systematic racism.

Bishop William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, who spoke at the event, discounted the notion that the racial and ethnic diversity among today’s protesters is a new wrinkle.

“It was Black, white and brown people, Muslims, Christians and Jews who crossed the bridge in Selma,” Barber said in his signature booming voice.

The renowned pastor also pointed out that police brutality is just one of many facets of racial violence and that Floyd’s death was indicative of the work still left to combat racism.

“When George Floyd cried out and said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ it was a code word for all of our pain,” he said.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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