Sewanee Workshop to Help Priests Grapple with Confederate Past

Stained glass fabricator Dieter Goldkuhle, who worked with his late father to install many of the stained glass windows at Washington National Cathedral, replaces an image of the Confederate battle flag after cathedral leaders decided in 2016. A year later, the cathedral also removed depictions of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas/Washington National Cathedral

Should a Confederate flag be etched out of a stained glass window? What should be done about a pew whose plaque honors Jefferson Davis or a parish church named for Robert E. Lee? Episcopal News Service reports that a number of high-profile Episcopal churches have struggled over how to handle symbols of the Confederate past in recent years, against a backdrop of increasing violence by white supremacists, some of whom claim the Lost Cause as a source of inspiration.

A pilot workshop sponsored by the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., hopes to gather up to 15 Episcopal clergy who are actively grappling with how to handle such controversial symbols in their own churches. The event, funded with a grant from the Jessie Bell DuPont Fund, is being led by two recent graduates of Sewanee’s School of Theology, the Rev. Hannah Pommersheim and the Rev. Kellan Day. It builds on the university’s Project on Slavery, Race and Reconciliation, a multi-year effort to engage its own difficult ties to slavery and segregation.

The workshop, based on “The Mountain,” from Nov. 5-7 will consider the theological underpinnings of Confederate symbols, help priests analyze the art and provide guidance on facilitating local conversations about how to reach consensus on what to do about such monuments and art pieces. The organizers note that there have been extensive conversations about treating such symbols in public spaces, but the dynamics surrounding their place in churches raise issues that deserve special consideration.

“I think the legacy of that racism is widespread and rampant,” Day told Episcopal News Service, “and one of the ways we can repent is by naming the story and sort of naming the ways it affects our built structures and sanctuaries.”

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