The Rev. Natalie Conway’s tenure as the new deacon of Memorial Episcopal Church in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill was by all accounts going well last year when she received news that sparked a personal crisis and sent shock waves through the congregation.
One of Conway’s siblings, who was conducting genealogical research on their family, told her that some of their forebears had been slaves on a local plantation — and the people and the land were owned by none other than the extended family of Memorial’s founding pastor, 19th-century cleric Charles Ridgely Howard.
If that weren’t disorienting enough, a current parishioner at Memorial — a man Conway had known for years and respected — was a descendant of the slaveholding clan.
Read the rest of the Sun’s story, which also discusses the separate efforts of Bishop of Maryland Eugene Taylor Sutton and the Virginia Theological Seminary to advance the cause of reparations for slavery.
Also, on the church’s website, the Rev. Grey Maggiano describes a visit in August to Hampton Plantation in Towson, where Conway’s ancestors were enslaved. Parishioners visited along with a group from a nearby African-American Episcopal church that was “founded because Memorial and others actively worked for segregation.”
After consecrating Holy Water and offering prayers, we invited all those in attendance — some descendants of slaves, some descendants of slave owners, all of us the product of a nation and economy that began on the backs of enslaved people — to pour out holy water in memory of those who came before us. To sanctify this space and to sanctify ourselves as well.
The last two visitors to participate were the Memorial’s Deacon Rev. Natalie Conway, descendent of the Cromwells, enslaved people at Hampton Plantation; and Steve Howard, long time member of Memorial and a descendant of James Howard, father of Charles Ridgely Howard. The Rev. Conway and Mr. Howard held the pitcher and poured out the water together because of their respect and care for each other, to represent the healing and restoration of relationship between two very different families, and as a public symbol of who Memorial Church is today.