Rector’s Blog: MLK Day: Perspectives and Observations from the Porch

MLK Day: Perspectives and Observations from the Porch

By Charlie Dupree

It’s been a complicated and beautiful few days at St. Paul’s. The service of welcome on Saturday was beautiful and joyous. Worship on Sunday was meaningful and deep. The experience on Monday was, for me, complicated and deeply unsettling. The view yesterday from St. Paul’s porch was not typical. Typically, one would see a few guards milling about at the entrance of the capitol building. Those who work in the area would cross the street in professional attire. There may be a few food trucks and tourists. But yesterday, MLK day, thousands and thousands of people crowded Ninth Street. I saw a few signs that mentioned Hitler. I saw a few confederate flags mixed in with American flags. I saw a huge banner with a picture of a machine gun on it. As I looked at the crowds, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What does it mean to love my neighbor?” Even as I seek to love my neighbor, I admit that a gap exists between what I believe and what others believe about what it means to be made in God’s image.

In the context of these troubling and confusing images, I also experienced some very holy moments. At one point, I was able to strike up a conversation with one of the police officers on Grace Street. I thanked him for what he was doing and he asked for a blessing. I asked if it was OK to touch his head. “Absolutely,” he said. So, I asked for God’s blessing upon him and upon all of the police officers and safety personnel. At one point, I was able to bring a few others from the prayer vigil at Centenary Methodist Church through the St. Paul’s building and onto the porch. Again, it took them a while to absorb the enormity of the scene. There on the porch, Ben Campbell, Mark Gordon, Bishop Susan Goff, another member from the faith community, and I joined hands. We prayed for the individuals in the crowds and for our leaders, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.

In these initial observations, please don’t mishear me . . . I am not trying to vilify those who are “pro-gun.” I come from a family and an area in which guns are a part of culture. We were taught, first and foremost, about safety. I realize the crowds in yesterday’s rally included persons who are very civil, caring, and thoughtful. I am responding, though, to the narrative that doesn’t have to do with guns at all. The narrative I experienced was a polarizing sense that someone has to win and someone has to lose – that someone has to be right and someone has to be wrong. I can’t help but believe that this “either/or” perspective puts everyone in danger.

Thanks for listening to these thoughts as I continue to work them out in my own head and in my own life. It’s been a beautiful and complicated few days at St. Paul’s. And, in God’s beautiful and sometimes complicated ways, God was and remains present . . . now, and until the ages of ages. Amen.

See you in church,

Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Richmond, Virginia
Preferred pronouns: he, him, his