By Mark Michael

The Diocese of Texas announced during its recent Diocesan Council that it will devote a record-breaking $13 million to a reparations initiative “that aims to repair and commence racial healing for individuals and communities who directly injured by slavery in the diocese.” The program announced by Bishop C. Andrew Doyle includes six designated funds that support African American seminarians at Austin’s Seminary of the Southwest, students at historic black colleges and universities in the diocese, building repairs for African-American churches, and local church-based racial reconciliation initiatives.

Doyle said that the project, formally called the Missionary Vision for Racial Justice, had been developed in consultation with a panel of 38 representatives of the diocese’s African American congregations. It is, he said, an attempt to atone for a legacy of complicity with slavery deeply entwined with the diocese’s foundation, noting that the first bishop of Texas, Alexander Gregg, was a slaveholder; and that the diocese’s first church, Christ Church, Matagorda, was built with slave labor.

The designated funds are all named for particular African-American Episcopalians, most of whom have a direct connection with the Diocese of Texas. These include Joseph and John Talbot, enslaved men who were the first African Americans to be baptized in the diocese; the Rev. Thomas Cain, the first person of color to serve in the diocese; and Bertha Sadler Means, a prominent Austin civil rights advocate.

Doyle said, “I have sought to undergird this work with the best theological and practical ideas in this present moment and from across the church to reinforce and amplify remedies and imagine a different trajectory for our future.”

The initiative garnered the acclaim of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who said that the initiative took his breath away. In a letter shared with council delegates, Bishop Curry wrote ” What you, the good people of the Diocese of Texas have done together with God is something truly God breathed, inspired! Both in what this will do for so many people and what it may inspire in others, you are reminding us that that for those of us who follow the way of Jesus and his love, all things can change for the good.”

Bishop Doyle’s announcement comes as the largest of similar slavery reparations programs recently announced by the Dioceses of New York, Long Island, and Georgia, and by Doyle’s alma mater, Virginia Theological Seminary. Prior to the Diocese of Texas’ announcement, the largest amount set aside for this purpose by an Episcopal institution had been Virginia Theological Seminary’s $1.7 million commitment. The largest project of this kind announced by a church institution to date has been Princeton Theological Seminary’s pledge of $27 million, roughly 2.25% of its $1.2 billion endowment.

According to financial reports shared at the recent diocesan council meeting, the Diocese of Texas has a $11.6 million budget in 2020. The diocese’s assets include several large foundations, which distributed over $16 million in grants to local parishes and to the diocesan budget in 2019. The largest of these, the Episcopal Health Foundation, was created with assets from the $1 billion sale of St. Luke Episcopal Health System in 2013.