The Church and Slavery: From Shame to Lamentation, and Onward to Restorative Justice?

10.5.18 | Pulpit Posts

This past Sunday, we kicked off our fall Christian Education series “Foundations of our Faith” with a whirlwind session discussing the history of the Episcopal Church. In order to pare down the information, I relied heavily on Christopher L. Webber’s Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its History, Faith, and Worship — a useful primer for new church members.

I did have a significant problem, though, with the material presented in the opening chapter on History — an issue that those present at the forum picked up on pretty quickly too. Although I understand that the purpose of Webber’s volume is to be as inviting as possible to newcomers, I was surprised and disappointed to notice that in a chapter that focused heavily on the church’s history in America, there was no mention of the church’s involvement with slavery. Since I did not do enough to counter that omission on Sunday, I thought I would write a few sentences here to clarify.

The first parish in the colonies was established in the settlement at Jamestown, and it benefitted by being supported by parishioners who were slave owners. As time went on, the church was able to grow in part through the generous financial support of wealthy slave owners throughout the colonies as well as by participating in the general economy that was heavily reliant on slave labor and businesses (like banking) that supported it. While a few abolitionists made their voices heard within the church, there was also very strong support of slavery. For example, the Bishop of Vermont, John Henry Hopkins, wrote a pamphlet in 1861 in which he attempted to justify slavery by appealing to the New Testament. (His argument should have been as theologically indefensible then as it is today.) While the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians all split over the Civil War, the Episcopal Church stayed together – as a result of deference to slave holders and at least in part by just avoiding discussing the issue.

The legacy of slavery and the church’s complicity with it continued to play out during Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow and Civil Right eras, and the church still has much work to do. The Episcopal Church has passed resolutions in recent years expressing remorse for the sin of slavery and pledging to look into its complicity and the possibility of reparations. The 2006 General Convention passed a resolution that specifically called on dioceses to respond to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its aftermath of segregation, discrimination, and oppression. In response, the Diocese of New York created the Diocesan Reparations committee – you can learn more about their work here: They called, and our diocesan convention approved, for 2018 to be a year of lamentations for our role in slavery.

May we as a parish, a diocese, and a national church endeavor to acknowledge and wrestle with our shameful past rather than “white-washing” it away. By seeking the truth; lamenting and repenting; and pursuing reconciliation, reparations, and restoration, may we truly live into our baptismal vows to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.


Rev. Susan Hill

Rev. Susan Hill


Stay current on activity at the Soup Kitchen, guest stories, thoughts from Clergy, news and events.

Subscribe to receive the latest news, events, volunteer opportunities, and more — right to your inbox.

Church of the Holy Apostles

We are an open, inclusive Christian Church celebrating in the Episcopal tradition.

Sunday Service is held 11AM (on site and via livestream). Weekday services are held on Zoom.


For Newcomers

Learn about our faith community and explore ways to connect with our work and worship.


Reflections on Holy Scripture from our Clergy.


Founded in 1844, with a focus on social activism and the desire for social justice.

Clergy, Staff & Vestry

The Vestry is the governing body of the Church of the Holy Apostles.


Music commands a strong presence at the Church of the Holy Apostles.

Space Rental

Host your next meeting or event in our landmark building.

Soup Kitchen & Pantry

Nourishing hungry New Yorkers since 1982 in an atmosphere of respect and hospitality.

Daily meal service

Serving a free, nutritious meal every weekday from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm.

Meal outreach

Distributing bagged breakfasts and lunches throughout Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen.

About the soup kitchen

Learn more about our mission, our history, our performance, who we are, and what we do.

Pantry Program

Providing fresh and nutritious groceries to food-insecure New Yorkers.

Sunday Supper

Bridging generations and building community over a monthly family style meal.

Give Layers of Love this Winter

Help Keep Our Guests Warm this Winter.

Social Support

Meeting basic needs, stabilizing lives, and supporting individuals and families to achieve their goals.


Addressing the needs of the whole person through basic needs, counseling, and referrals.


Offering learning and skill-building opportunities.

Community Partnership

Partnering with others to expand the services offered to our guests.

Get Involved

Holy Apostles is a great place to channel your time, talents and generosity for good.


Make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers experiencing homelessness and hunger.


Join our efforts to serve others and provide for people who are vulnerable.


Your gift provides food, community, and hope to New Yorkers in need.

The Latest

Stay up-to-date on all happenings at Holy Apostles.

Food For The Soul

The official blog of Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

Voices of Our Community

Guest stories, poetry, and more.


See our calendar of events.

Church Pulpit Posts

Read weekly meditations written by our clergy.


Holy Apostles in the news.