Teen Mission Experience in Ferguson, Missouri

holtThis Saturday, June 25, eleven of our high school youth and four of our adult Journey to Adulthood leaders will board three 15-passenger vans at 6:00 am with friends from St. Martin’s, St. Mark’s (Huntersville), St. Patrick’s (Mooresville), and All Saints’ (Concord) to travel to Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri, and return on Friday, July 1. We seek to understand and make a difference in race relations and systemic injustice.

We are most grateful to parishioner Teddy Foster, who grew up in St. Louis and worked with many community service organizations in the area, for designing this mission experience and accompanying the group as a guide and leader. North Carolina teens and teens from Episcopal churches in Ferguson and St. Louis with whom we are partnering (St. Stephen’s and The Vine Episcopal Church, Ferguson; All Saints’ Episcopal, St. Louis; and Episcopal Church of the Ascension, St. Louis) are joining forces with a number of community development organizations in Ferguson to serve and to learn. Our planned outreach activities include cooking and serving a “Peace Meal” through St. Stephen’s, planning and providing a neighborhood “Fun Day Carnival,” participating in neighborhood beautification projects, and holding a toiletries drive and delivery for seniors. Our learning activities include an historical tour entitled “From Slavery to Ferguson” with a university professor, a presentation and workshop on dismantling racism, a poverty simulation, and a tour of Washington University in St. Louis, focusing on the Washington University Library’s groundbreaking efforts to protect and preserve digital documentation of racism in the area. Another of the adult leaders traveling with us is also an experienced filmmaker and will document the trip and provide us with a professionally edited video of our experiences.

Systemic injustice and racism continue to plague our country. During a recent trip to the Martin Luther King Memorial, our teens saw Dr. King’s powerful statement, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and that statement has made a profound impact on them. I applaud and celebrate the teens and their parents who have made this commitment to work to change themselves and, in doing so, to help change the world. Following in the footsteps of Mahatma Ghandi, “We need not wait to see what others do.”

We ask for your prayers as we make this journey next week.

–Lyn Holt, Director of Youth Formation

Difference, Violence & Hope


Within the last ten days, St. Peter’s has hosted two public conversations.  On June 7, our conversation facilitated by a team of brilliant and dedicated panelists focused on race and completed programming related to our parish-wide read of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me.  One week later, our nave was filled with folks gathered to be “holy and human” for an interfaith vigil organized by Meckmin, the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice, and others.

As I’ve reflected on these two gatherings which attracted diverse crowds, I realize that one commonality between them is that they reflect the all-too-human challenge of responding to difference:  blacks and whites and Latinos; Muslims and LGBTQI and mainline Protestant folk; and the list goes on.  As Christians, we can affirm that God makes each of us uniquely – our differences are God-given and ultimately for the building up the the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12).  In turn, our Body, the Church, is one of the instruments the Spirit uses for reconciling the whole world with God (Book of Common Prayer, Catechism p. 855, and Genesis 12: 1-3).

But while we can cognitively assent to the idea that diversity is a gift, we have a much harder time behaving that way – just look at how homogenous our natural circles of friends tend to be.  Look at where, and whom, we live with.  (There are obviously exceptions – proof that we can choose differently – but exceptions nonetheless.)  One of the most tragic costs of not valuing difference — of not actively engaging with people who are different from us, of not knowing their stories enough to begin to love them concretely, not abstractly — is ultimately violence.  Violence like the horrible massacres that now share anniversaries almost one year apart – Charleston and Orlando — and violence in much subtler forms like generational poverty that correlates along racial lines.

The last couple of years at St. Peter’s, we’ve offered various programs about race and reconciliation.  Below are just a few recent observations about the pervasiveness of racism in our local community:


  • At the Rite-Aid in Cotswold, a poster of a beautiful, smiling black woman was defaced when someone painted one of the woman’s teeth gold.
  • At a recent gathering at a local independent school, a parent casually suggested that the school “buy out” homes of local black neighbors because they complain about school children walking through their yards.
  • Noticing at a recent visit to the Urban Ministry Center, which assists neighbors who are homeless, that the large majority of the neighbors are black.

These experiences and observations have opened my eyes to my inherent privilege as a white person, and to signs of social injustice that surround me.  I haven’t always seen the world as a systemically unjust place, but I do more and more, especially as I listen to people of color – to their stories, their frustrations, their challenges, and their fears.  As the reality has been revealed through these conversations, there is no going back to the land of denial or ignorance.  My vision has been altered; rose-colored (or white-filtered) glasses a bit less rosy (a little more aware of the white-filter).

One comment from the June 7 panel on race at St. Peter’s has stuck with me.  One panelist, an organizational development consultant and community leader, lamented she had “lost faith in the faith community.”  She described a meeting with a pastor of a local prominent black church where she asked why the church hadn’t been more involved with organizing efforts for educational equity in the city.  The pastor bluntly responded that no one seems too worried about it – no one is calling his office with concerns.

Of course, I am sure there was more to the conversation and the context of that exchange.  But I felt a deep sadness upon hearing it.  I hear the pastor’s comment as a sort of resignation to “the way things are”, maybe even numbness, or perhaps a sense of paralysis in the face of entrenched structural patterns that perpetuate socio-economic disparity along racial lines.

As a Christian called to proclaim the Good News, I am always on the lookout for hope, for signs big and small that God’s kingdom is coming, as we ask every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.  I saw hope in the more than 500 people from all walks of life who came together at St. Peter’s to hear thoughtful conversations, and to pray in these last few days.  I experience hope whenever we share the Eucharist, celebrating that life comes out of death.  I feel hope when I look over the commitments so many of us made last Summer when we came together to process the Charleston Massacre.  Some of us made promises to:

  • “speak openly and intentionally about racism with my young child;”
  • “examine my inactivity on the [issue of race];”
  • “pray more for racial understanding;”
  • “ask my black friends to identify institutional racism so I can name it.”

And so many more.

There is much hope to be had in these sorrowful days, brothers and sisters, much hope.


–The Rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer, 6/17/16



Love Endures

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
–1 Corinthians 13:7

We began this week prepared to commemorate the first anniversary of the massacre of nine people who were killed as they studied the Bible together at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. And now, we are shattered by the massacre of fifty people in Orlando who were dancing, singing, and being carefree in one of the few places many of them felt safe to do so.

We can name the other places: Aurora, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, and on and on and on. We can try to name the names, and grieve the victims individually, but we will move on eventually in ways their families and friends will not. We remember where we were when 9/11 occurred, but the ongoing gun violence, like racism in America, seems to elicit brief periods of grief and anger and discussion, and then we throw up our collective hands because we feel hopeless to change anything. If the violent deaths of twenty first graders haven’t changed America, what will?

Last summer, my siblings and I were keeping vigil at the hospital with my mother in the days leading up to her death when we heard about the Charleston massacre. We went into the family dining area on the hospice unit, and three African-American women from a local church were there, unpacking food they had brought in for us so we could stay with our mother and each other. Already raw, I fell sobbing into the arms of one of the women with a mixture of gratitude, shame, anger and compassion. They could have been the victims. They were the victims. We say every week that “we are one body, because we share one bread, one cup.” In that way we ARE ALL Orlando and Charleston and Paris and Kenya, as members of the human family, broadly, and followers of Christ specifically. After we grieve, what do we do?

For me, the only way to bear all of this is with love. I do believe that love endures and what it touches endures, and that God’s infinite love demands hope. With that hope comes a belief that our actions matter. As “bold followers of Christ” at St. Peter’s, we are called to channel our grief, fear, and anger into actions that lead to healing and change. For me that has meant giving blood, calling my representatives, and bringing information about this weekend’s Stand Up Sabbath to St. Peter’s. What does it mean for you?

–Susan Campbell

On Being Community: Life at St. Peter’s

rencherThe early Christians had their whole lives in common. We read about them in the Acts of the Apostles 4:32-33: Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power, the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them.”

I suggest that we at St. Peter’s also have our whole lives in common: we are bound together by one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Even as we often share that we don’t know each other throughout our ever-changing, growing, and thriving parish family, this sacred place is our faith community. Several such opportunities await us all. On Sunday, June 5, we will learn about the stewardship ministry of Planned Giving and St. Peter’s 1834 Legacy Society; hear choristers from The Choir School at St. Peter’s during the 10:45 a.m. liturgy; and gather for food, fellowship, and play at the Parish Picnic at Independence Park on East Seventh Street. On Tuesday, June 7, we will welcome neighbors from beyond our doors for a “Community Dialogue on Race in Charlotte” to examine racial justice, equity, and community in the Queen City. These are some examples of how community is celebrated through life at St. Peter’s.

Our parish Vision is to become a community of bold followers of Jesus, a crowd that effects good change for the world, a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte. May all that we are and offer strengthen the meaning and experience of what it means to be a Christian community.

In thanksgiving for our birth and life together,

– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

A Review of Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

It is often said that the mark of a compelling literary work is one which the reader cannot put down. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a book that you are going to want and need to put down in order to reflect.  You must put it down as it hits you smack in the face with some of the most tragic and horrific humanitarian accounts I have ever come across.

I would like nothing more than to burn Just Mercy’s pages, and the stories that fill them, from anyone’s working memory.  Not because the accounts are not compelling, they are just too tragic.  It is simply astonishing the horrors our brothers and sisters, and our children, have endured – and, sadly, continue to endure.  But the accounts are necessary medicine if we are to get a healthier place as a people.  There is indeed plenty of work to be done.  Do not let anyone tell you otherwise without offering them the deep yet sorrowful learning experience that is Just Mercy.  Regardless of one’s political ideology and/or upbringing and cultural experience, as Americans — as human beings — we ought to all be on the same page when it comes to basic human rights and access to the legal system.  And if we are on different pages for whatever reason(s) – it is most definitely a goal worth striving for.

If you are one that is interested in the intersections of race and poverty, mass incarceration, the death penalty, the marginalization and abuses of women, and the prevalence and abuses of children in prison, then you are interested in attorney Bryan Stevenson’s work as director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, which is a private nonprofit organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system. Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson’s candid reflections about his battle on the frontlines of racial inequality, and the gross pervasiveness of a corrupt, and oftentimes inaccessible, legal system.

I could not complete Just Mercy and feel at peace with the status quo, and my limited role in the social justice movement.  I could not even finish the first couple of chapters without feeling like my life has been largely meaningless, sheltered, and privileged, despite my constant quest to seek new information and to keep an open mind about nearly all matters.  I cannot be at peace with the fact that so many have not, and likely will never, be afforded the same access to opportunity as I have.  I cannot be at peace about the fact that my access to justice is so much different than so many others’.  I cannot be at peace about the fact that as a white male, I am so much less likely to face any systemic abuses that have shattered the lives of so many others.  In the eyes of the criminal justice system, I am special.  However, the United States Constitution instructs me that all men [and women] are created equal, and that there are certain inalienable rights inherent in every human, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These inalienable rights are endowed by our Creator.  My soul tells me the same.  These are basic principles.  But the world is, sadly, not such a basic place.  Far from it.

Just Mercy will compel the reader to confront challenging and at times frustrating questions such as why is there so much hurt and sorrow in the world? What is justice, really?  Is our criminal justice system, just?  And if it is not, what can be done to change it?  Is our criminal justice system broken?  Who broke it?  Was it ever really “fixed”?  What step(s) can we take to change it?  How should the system really operate?  Are we fighting a fight of idealism vs. realism, and is justice even attainable?  How do we purposefully and radically strive for peace, love, and understanding in the world?  How do we celebrate our differences?  Are criminals worthy of our love and understanding?  What is a criminal?  What is true reconciliation, and is it even possible in this social justice context?  Are our relations with one another clouded by misunderstandings, biases, prejudices, and/or the machinations of the political and prosecutorial processes?  How do we give those with no voice a place to start to defend themselves against the abuses of the system?  How do we give those whose voices have been silenced the strength, courage, and tools to mount a defense that carries real weight?  How do we have the fortitude to do and consider all of this — despite how steep the climb may be — no matter how formidable the fight may be?  How do we stem the tide, break through the shackles that bind us, and put a just and rightful end to all of this happening in the first place?

If we here at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church truly are to be a crowd that effects good change for the world, and a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte, we must first take a step back and understand the depths of the injustice and sorrow that permeates our world today. Though it slaps us square in the face and shatters our souls, Just Mercy provides a lens through which the social justice ministry can provide greater understanding, lead to further dialogue, and foster even more growth.  We must first fully come to grips with the abominable realities facing our brothers and sisters, and children, today.  And then we as church body must find some way(s) to effectively and compassionately serve others in the cross hairs of systemic racial injustice.  Doing so will fully mount St. Peter’s as a beacon of hope for our city, and perhaps even our nation as a whole.  As Bryan Stevenson so beautifully illustrates, changing — or even saving — one life is worth the world.

Bryan Stevenson is fighting the good fight with all his might. He is giving all that he can, despite the enormous discrepancies in power structure and resources he and his team face.  He implores us to have the courage, and the unconditional love for our brothers and sisters, to do all that we can do to fight alongside him and the Equal Justice Initiative.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are commanded to love the Lord with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our strength, and all our minds. And to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Bryan Stevenson dutifully shows us the way in Just Mercy.  What is it that we are called to do?  Are we giving it our all?

– By Parishioner Walt Hutchinson

Resources for Understanding Racism

Below is a list of resources to help us – and to help white people in particular –understand more deeply how racism is expressed daily in our culture. These articles have been curated by a member of our Social Justice Committee and don’t necessarily represent the views of St. Peter’s per se, but are relevant to the committee’s work of educating the parish on social justice issues.  Skim, read, react and share your thoughts with other parishioners.

The Most Important Writing From People Of Color In 2015

This is what white privilege is

The Rules: Making Sense of Race and Privilege

A 5-Step Guide for Macklemore and White Allies Afraid of Doing Anti-Racism ‘Wrong’

Why the Church Should Support #BlackLivesMatter

Letter from Birmingham Jail

Ferguson: ‘The ‘come to Jesus’ moment for us in the church’

Test Yourself for Hidden Bias

White People, Racism, and Doubting Thomas.

Michelle Alexander: “A System of Racial and Social Control”

Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequality


A Meditation on Reconciliation and being honest with myself

“It is difficult to like some people.
It is difficult to like somebody threatening your children.
It is so difficult, so
to like
some people.
…But Jesus says Love them.”

I heard these words of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the noontime concert last week, and the lines struck a bell in my head that’s been ringing every since.

The song spoke to me, because I realized that I do find it difficult – so difficult! – to like some people. When I feel ignored, or belittled, or attacked; when I find someone’s rhetoric divisive, their platform dangerous, or their behavior (as they say) “unforgiveable” … if I’m being honest, there are actually whole lots of people that I really can’t say I like very much.

It’s easy to say “I love Everybody” when I’m in a place I feel comfortable, with people I enjoy, and an environment in which I feel safe. But it’s hard to feel love for certain people when I truthfully don’t like them much at all. And rather than searching for a point of commonality, typically I’ll find myself throwing up walls of emotional self-protection: “This person makes me uncomfortable, so I’d prefer just not to engage.” (aka, how long do I have to smile until it’s polite to walk away?)

But these walls, I now realize, are the very place where discipleship really begins. It’s about loving even when I’m hurting, about reaching out a hand when I most want to run away and curl up into a little ball. Reconciliation means loving even when I mistrust, loving even when I feel unsafe, loving people even when I find them difficult to like … and (!) the challenge is that it’s hard.

Thank you Ms. Goldsby, for sharing Dr. King’s wise words … this week, I’m praying for strength.

Lisa Jan Wielunski
Charlotte, NC

I am because you are.

rencherUbuntu. As you and I abide in, reflect on, wrestle with, and respond to the sin and state of racism within which we live, I receive great hope from the word “Ubuntu” (pronounced uu-Boon-too, derived from one of the Bantu dialects of Africa). The core of this African philosophy [Ubuntu] offers that all human beings, equally created in the image of God (imago Dei), must understand themselves in relation with the world in order to be whole persons. It means for each person that “I am because you are.” This I find to be both true and mysterious and definitely a “God thing.”

Ubuntu. Daily, I pray that all human beings will work on realizing that each of us actually is “un-whole” if the common bond with all human beings is ignored or minimized or broken. Regardless of what labels or histories we have received from family, society, choice, or force (like American slavery), how and with whom they identify, or what circles they have chosen to be social, study, travel, and play, we are because others are. The recent Charleston massacre and subsequent discussions about the Confederate flag have ignited something fierce throughout our region and nation; both point to reminders of the Ubuntu philosophy. We are because others are: when one dies or hurts, all die and hurt.

Ubuntu calls all Christians and non-Christians to do the hard, uncomfortable, and scary self-examination work of Ash Wednesday and Lent, every day of our lives. The God within each of us dares us to always be reconciling ourselves with God and one another and to “see the face of God in each other,” all so that we might be whole persons.

Life at St. Peter’s will always include collective and individual opportunities for us to do our “race work,” in the name of our parish vision to become bold followers of Jesus and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte. I look forward to praying and walking through this hard and holy journey with you by God’s grace and in the spirit of Ubuntu.

God’s blessings and peace to your journey,

–The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

Responding to Charleston and The State of Racism

“O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

– Collect for the Human Family from The Book of Common Prayer

rencherIn the wake of the June 17th killing of nine of God’s beloved children at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, as they gathered for prayer, fellowship, and study of The Holy Scriptures, I invite you, first and foremost, to join me in unceasing prayer before we act. Let us pray for the human family and for God to do what only God can do: heal us and make us whole.

This earthly journey calls for us to navigate its brokenness and its broken people, employing the faith imparted to us through the waters of Baptism and acknowledging that every human being is created in the image of God. The journey also expects you and I to be (or become) a people of hope, justice, and love, amid our natural sadness, anger, confusion, questions, and Christian belief that death is not the final answer. Life—through God’s love and with God’s help—is the final answer.

Whenever tragedy occurs, our faith, like that of the people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, commands us to come together for holy conversation that is rooted in prayer and the Holy Scriptures. We are offering four ways to engage in this holy conversation.

  • First, join us Sunday at 9:30 a.m. In the Parish Hall to reflect together on the tragedy in Charleston.  How does our faith affect our response to what happened?  What questions do we offer to God?  What might we do with the strong feelings rising up in response this senseless act of violence has?  This conversation is both the continuation of the conversations we’ve had over the last year about racial reconciliation, and it is the beginning of a new conversation recognizing the deep tear God’s tapestry experienced on Wednesday night in Charleston.
  • Second, you can join the wider Charlotte community for a conversation on Monday evening in Queen’s University Chapel. This conversation will be facilitated by MeckMin; details on the time will be shared as soon as they are available.
  • Third, fellow clergy, lay leaders, and I will host a time of worship, prayer, and conversation on Thursday, June 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the sacred space, the nave at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Open to parishioners and non-parishioners of all ages and sweep of feelings about what has occurred in Charleston and the current state of racism, we will offer The Great Litany, read from and reflect on Scripture, share feelings, and consider small and big actions that might be best for us—individually and collectively. So that we can plan appropriately, please let us know you’re coming at web.st-peters.org/rsvp.
  • And fourth, talking about such violence can be hard for everyone, especially in families with children.  We’ve made available a resource that provides thoughtful, faithful guidance for parents and educators about how to talk with our children. It is available here.

At the writing of this message, my wife Ellie and I are on vacation until early next week. We will miss gathering around God’s Table with you for the Holy Eucharist on Sunday, June 21.

On God’s new day, I hold you and yours in prayer and give thanks for our life together as people of faith who make their spiritual and sacramental home at the corner of North Tryon at West Seventh streets in Center City Charlotte.

God’s peace to you, blessings, and prayers unceasing. Faithfully, I am…

The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector

St. Peter’s Parish Vision is to become a community of bold followers of Jesus, a crowd that effects good change for the world, a place known for radical love and welcome, and a beacon of hope in Center City Charlotte.


josA black woman stands with a hand-written poster that simply says “WHY?” in front of a palm tree outside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. As I learned about the horrendous shooting in this downtown, historical Charleston church founded by a slave, I found myself wondering the same thing. Perhaps the most faithful thing we can utter to God when confronted with such evil is “Why?”

This tragedy might resonate with us here at St. Peter’s in particularly strong ways: We are an urban church that has decided to keep our doors unlocked during the day. We have been the target of a small group of people who disagree with our Gospel conviction that all of God’s children (gay, straight, black, white, brown, young, and old) are welcome in God’s house. We are committed to becoming “a place known for radical hospitality and love,” as we say in our vision.

In all these ways, we are vulnerable. And I can’t help but wonder if this vulnerability is one of the main ways St. Peter’s practices being bold followers of Jesus. Jesus was vulnerable to the point of death, and in some mysterious way I think this is our call, too.  But that wasn’t the end of Jesus’ story. Nor is death the end of the story for our nine faithful brothers and sisters who died so senselessly last night. Resurrection is. In Baptism, we participate in both Christ’s death and Christ’s resurrection. Life is the final word. In this promise, lies my hope…and indeed the hope of the world which cries out “why,” even as it sings “Alleluia.”

A Prayer for the Human Family (p. 815 of the Book of Common Prayer)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Joslyn Ogden Schaefer, Associate Rector