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CENTRAL FLORIDA: New Episcopal bishop's debut: Marching for Trayvon

CENTRAL FLORIDA: New Episcopal bishop's debut: Marching for Trayvon

By Jeff Kunerth,
Orlando Sentinel
March 30, 2102

Two days after he was consecrated as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, Gregory Brewer was marching Monday with the crowd demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.

He was the only white clergyman to address the Sanford City Commission inside the Civic Center that evening, urging city leaders to address the concerns of the black community.

"I thought it was very courageous," said Andy Searles, a pastor with Aloma United Methodist Church in Winter Park. "It would have been very easy for him to sit in his office and organize the paperwork on his desk, but he made a statement of what the church should be."

Brewer characterized it not as an act of courage but as one of faith and commitment to his diocese, which covers 15 counties and has 31,000 Episcopalians. It was the most direct way for him to make a public statement about what kind of Episcopal bishop he intends to be.

"Part of what I'm trying to do is chart a course of what my role is as bishop in Central Florida. I don't want to hide out with my local churches. My role is to be involved in the life of my community as a Christian presence," said Brewer, 60, who remembers Klan marches growing up in Richmond, Va.

Brewer, who was ordained in Central Florida and spent 16 years here, was rector of a small, multicultural church in downtown Manhattan when elected to succeed Bishop John W. Howe, who retired after serving 22 years. Apart from his opposition to ordaining gay priests, Howe was a low-key leader given more to intellectual study than community involvement.

Brewer comes from the evangelical tradition of the Episcopal Church that applied spiritual conviction to social activism, dating back to opposition to slavery and exploitation of child labor, said the Rev. Rory Harris, who has known him for 14 years.

"This is a consistent pattern with him. This is living out the gospel to be involved in the spiritual life, but have it inform our actions in daily life," said Harris, rector of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Sanford.

Harris said he was not surprised to get a call from Brewer, who asked him to arrange for Brewer's participation in the march and City Commission meeting. Harris and seven other Episcopal priests joined Brewer on the march.

"Our bishop is leading by example and telling us to let our faith inform our action," Harris said.

The Rev. Joe Sitts, a retired priest who marched with Brewer, said it was a risky thing for the new bishop to do so soon after taking office.

"When he does something like that, not everybody is going to agree with it," Sitts said.

Brewer said he didn't want to wait until all the facts are known about what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman. His purpose in stepping forward was to show his support for the black ministers and community leaders who believe an injustice occurred in Sanford.

"Regardless of what happens in terms of all the facts, to stand behind them, especially as a white bishop, to support their concerns was the right thing to do," he said. "These are my neighbors."



By the Rt. Rev Gregory O. Brewer
April 2, 2012

Dear Colleagues in Ministry,

Many of you are aware that I have been a public presence at the recent events in Sanford surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin. What you may not know is my motivation in being there. I did not go to Sanford to make a political statement, but a pastoral one: that was Canon Nelson Pinder's observation and it is accurate.

I went to Sanford with the enthusiastic support of Fr. Rory Harris, Rector of Holy Cross, because I wanted to pastorally stand with a community of people, specifically the African American community of Sanford, who were deeply concerned that they were not being treated fairly by local law enforcement.

What I observed at the City Commission public hearing where I spoke only confirmed that concern. Many of us grew up in communities where we trusted the police to do their job fairly. We believed them to be people of good will who would even let us off for minor infractions if circumstances warranted. Because that is my experience with local law enforcement, I am far more inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, not get involved, and allow investigations to quietly take their course. These are assumptions that I suspect many of you share and that is still my hope.

The African American community of Sanford does not, however, share many of these same assumptions. They were praying, openly at that meeting, for a fair outcome, but they were not at all sure it would happen. Anecdotal stories of racial prejudice on the part of law enforcement were told at that hearing numerous times from people who began their stories by saying, "I grew up in this community."

There was enough history of unfair treatment by the police that people were afraid that nothing would be done, even though they believed that one of their own had been murdered. They believed that if Trayvon Martin had been white and walking in that same neighborhood, dressed exactly the same way, his death would not have happened.

So I stood before the microphone and addressed the City Commission. I spoke of the grief I would be feeling if it had been one of my own sons who had been shot. I echoed the sentiments of others who were pleading for an open, fair and impartial investigation.

I publicly joined that community in their prayers for justice. Later, I sent an email to Sanford's Mayor, Jeff Triplett, thanking him for his courage and for the City Commission's open hearing. My hope in going was to embody, in some small and public way, two Biblical principles:

1. The haunting question of "who is my neighbor" found in the parable of the Good Samaritan that ties us all together regardless of race or neighborhood.
2. The heartbreaking unity described in Paul's phrase "when one suffers, all suffer."

As a bishop, I have a responsibility to embody and articulate a clear Christian witness, both in our churches and in the public arena. That responsibility is central to my office.

That is a part of what I believe it means to live out, in our day, the faith of the apostles. Since my involvement in Sanford I have received many responses. Most of the responses have been overwhelmingly positive, from clergy and laypeople both in and outside the Episcopal Church as well as in and outside our community.

There have been a few who have voiced some criticism, and understandably so. The facts of the case continue to shift. Things are murky, not clear. All involved have their faults. If one chooses to only publicly support those who are completely innocent, then one will wait a very long time, indeed.

This coming Friday, Good Friday, pastors from all over Seminole County are gathering outside Holy Cross Church at 9:00 to pray for the community of Sanford and the many who are deeply affected by this case. God willing, I plan to be there.

I trust you are keeping me and all involved in your prayers, and if God gives you some discernment in this matter I am more than open to receiving it. Have a blessed and strong Holy Week as well as joyful Feast of the Resurrection.

I remain your servant and a servant of Christ's,

+Greg Brewer Bishop,
Diocese of Central Florida

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