Saintly Shenanigans

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Who Will Take the Day Today — Edward Thomas Demby or Dorothy Day? March 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — revwaf @ 4:05 pm

Yesterday Martha of Bethany plucked the Little Flower right out of the competition.  She will take on Harriet Tubman in the Saintly 16 round.  Yikes!  That one will be fierce!

Today’s match-up is pretty fierce too:  the first African-American bishop vs the founder of the Catholic Worker movement.  Are you kidding me??  Well I guess this is just a way to warm us up for the tough choices which lie ahead.

A book about Bishop Demby by Michael J. Beary

Edward Thomas Demby (1869-1957):  for starters it’s really disappointing that there is nothing in Wikipedia about him.  But if you google him, in addition to the fine write-up in Lent Madness there is also a good article in the Episcopal Church’s archives online under “The Church Awakens:  African-Americans and the Struggle for Social Justice.”

Edward Thomas Demby was born in Wilmington, DE and grew up in Philadelphia (yay Philly!).  He served as the dean of students at Paul Quinn College in Texas; during that time he was confirmed in the Episcopal Church.  Bishop John F. Spalding  of Colorade recognized Demby’s leadership gifts and devotion to the Episcopal Church and invited him to go work in the Diocese of Tennessee, where he was ordained deacon and then priest.  While in Tennessee, he served as rector at St. Paul’s Church in Mason, principal of St. Paul’s Parochial School, and vice principal of Hoffman Hall. From 1900 to 1907 he ministered to parishes in Illinois, Missouri and Florida.

He eventually returned to Tennessee in 1907 where he served as rector of  Emmanuel Church in Memphis and as the Secretary of the segregated souther “colored convocations” and as the Archdeacon for Colored Work.  During that time he was elected as Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas and the Southwest, becoming the first African-American to be elected bishop.

He worked tirelessly, helping in the westward expansion of the Episcopal Church, and bringing African-Americans into the Episcopal Church — a church they had largely left after Emancipation because of its association with their former masters.  He established schools, hospitals, orphanages and other service institutions.  His work extended well beyond the Episcopal Church.  He was a member of  the Forward Movement Commission, the Joint Commission on Negro Work, and the Race Relations Commission. He was also active on the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, the American Association of the Advancement of Colored People, the American League for a Free Palestine, the American Humane Society, and the Sociology Society.  He also wrote several books and devotional materials.

Fabulous icon! She is holding a copy of “Catholic Worker”

Dorothy Day (1897-1980): we could sure use someone like her today.  An article in the January 3, 2013 The Catholic World Today calls for her beatification saying “Thomas More, the statesman who would not compromise his faith at the behest of King Henry VIII, was elevated to sainthood during a time when Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini were rising to power. Now, as the United States seems to be locked in a red state/blue state quagmire, the Catholic Church may elevate to sainthood Dorothy Day, a servant of God who could not be pigeonholed as a liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, or libertarian, and chose to wear no other label than that of Christian. Despite attempts from both liberals and conservatives, Dorothy Day does not fit comfortably in either political camp.”  Well Lent Madness has already elevated her to sainthood and for good reason!

Born in New York she grew up in San Fransisco and Chicago.  Living through the 1906 earthquake in the bay area and seeing how people took care of each other afterwards made a deep impression on her.  Her initial spiritual home was the Episcopal Church in which she was baptized and confirmed, but she later became a Roman Catholic.  After attending the University of Illinois for two years she dropped out and moved to New York, where she became involved with Socialist causes, pacifism, and women’s suffrage.

In the 1930’s, together with Peter Maurin she founded the Catholic Worker movement.  It began with the publication of the Catholic Worker which was established to promote Catholic social teaching in the depths of the Great Depression.  It grew into a “house of hospitality” in the slums of New York, then a series of farms for people to live and work communally.  The movement quickly spread to other US cities with well over 100 communities existing throughout the world today.  Her impact has been long-lasting a far-reaching and I encourage you to read more about her (she does have a rather extensive entry in wikipedia).

Musings:  yes, this is a tough one.  Do I go with someone whose impact has world-wide significance or someone who helped shape the inclusive nature of the Episcopal Church as we know it today?  My first instinct was to go with Day (and I have a hunch she will take this bracket) but, after spending the better part of last week contemplating the future of the Episcopal Church both at the CEEP conference and then again yesterday in a smaller diocesan gathering, I am going with Edward Thomas Demby (who, I confess with great embarrassment, I did not know about until Lent Madness).  As all religious groups ask themselves the question “who are we?  Are we relevant?  What is our niche?” in this rapidly changing world, I am proud to be an Episcopalian.  Proud to be part of a church which is able to re-invent itself from the (perceived) church of the powerful and comfortable to a church which truly means what those signs say (“The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”).  I believe Edward Thomas Demby was instrumental helping to bring about that shift — a shift that has continued through our wrestling with the place of women and LGBT people.  So far, IMHO, we have chosen grace and radical hospitality, thanks be to God.

To vote, go here.


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