By Sharon Tillman
Episcopal Churches of Maryland commemorated the 150th anniversary of the official abolishment of chattel slavery in Maryland on All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, with the Trail of Souls: Truth and Reconciliation Pilgrimage. This day-long journey featured five Maryland sites with strong ties to both slavery and the Episcopal Church.
An online pilgrimage of 23 churches and diocesan sites found at trailofsouls.org is a virtual tour and living legacy that will grow in scope. The Trail of Souls offers a chance to visit the Episcopal Churches of Maryland and witness them in a new light — looking at the legacy of slavery. As more churches discover and write their history they will be added to the web portal.
An estimated 500-plus people took part in the pilgrimage, including those who attended planned programs at each of the sites. More than 200 pilgrims traveled the Trail of Souls on All Saints’ Day.
The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, Bishop of Maryland, said in his letter welcoming pilgrims that “we journey together both to remember a painful period in our history and to envision a future free of racism and injustice.”
After a brief service commissioning the pilgrims, two tour buses and a caravan of cars and small vans departed from the diocesan center and Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore and proceeded to three historic parishes: All Hallows’ Church, Davidsonville; All Saints’ Church, Sunderland; and Grace Church, Silver Spring (Diocese of Washington). The pilgrimage concluded at the Claggett Center and Hasselbach Family Cemetery in Buckeystown.
Bishop Sutton participated in the Day of Repentance and Reconciliation along with Bishop Suffragan Heather Elizabeth Cook and Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Diocese of Washington.
Pamela Charshee, a member of the Research and Pilgrimage Working Group for Trail of Souls, described a feeling “that the Spirit entered into this in ways none of us could have expected — with powerful truth-telling at our sister parishes and at one moment symbolized in the unforgettable vision of the bishop with his crozier in his flowing red and white robes with the little band of pilgrims following him up the hill to the gravesite.”
General Convention’s Resolution A123 (2006) acknowledged and regretted the Episcopal Church’s support of the inhuman system of chattel slavery and Bible abuse that was used to justify a sin that dehumanized a people created in the image of God. All dioceses were urged to research ties to the institution of chattel slavery and its effect on congregations then and now.
In 2007 this resolution led to the 223rd annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland apologizing “for the Anglican Church in Colonial Maryland and of the Episcopal Church in the state of Maryland for their role in the slavery of African Americans and in the subsequent racial injustice,” in Resolution 2007-5.
“We have continued to explore ways in which we can honor the past in ways that restore the dignity of nameless souls who toiled as persons perceived as less than human,” said the Rev. Angela Shepherd, canon for mission in the Diocese of Maryland and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “Their free labor instituted a way of life that still haunts us in the 21st century. [The Trail of Souls] pilgrimage reconciles us with a painful past, yet we are able to thank God for changes that have occurred as we work for an even brighter tomorrow.”
CapitalGazette.com reported on the pilgrimage’s stop at All Hallows’ Church, Davidsonville.
Sharon Tillman is the Diocese of Maryland’s director of communications.