Video: On policing, reconciliation, black lives and the church’s role

Gayle Fisher-Stewart, a priest and retired police officer, shares her thoughts

By Lynette Wilson
Posted Jul 29, 2016

[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Gayle Fisher-Stewart spent 20 years working as a police officer for the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. She joined the department in 1972, four years after riots destroyed parts of the city following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

At the time African-Americans made of 70 percent of the people living in the nation’s capital; at the same time, the police department was overwhelmingly white. Fisher-Stewart’s decision to join the police force baffled friends and family. The department had a bad reputation, she said, and “my friends weren’t happy because some of them had had negative interactions with police here in D.C.”

But Fisher-Stewart needed money to further her education and at the time the department offered a retirement package at 20 years of service. Twenty years to the day, she retired and went to work as a law enforcement consultant, including as a community policing advisor. Some years later, the mother of one son, she enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary.

As a deacon serving Calvary Episcopal Church, a historically black congregation on the city’s northeast side, Fisher-Stewart founded the Center for the Study of Faith and Justice at Calvary with the help of from the Episcopal Evangelism Society grant. Now as an assistant rector, she serves along the Rev. Peter Jarrett-Schell, the church’s first white rector, together they work to foster conversations and build community in their neighborhood.

The Center for the Study of Faith and Justice hosts forums about race, social justice, inequality, policing among others, creating a space for dialogue and action. Through the center, Calvary is partnering with other churches and nonprofit organizations to address issues like unemployment and support for ex-offenders re-entering society.

In the past, Fisher-Stewart spoke on gun ownership at a Bishops United Against Gun Violence ( march in Salt Lake City during the 2015 Episcopal Church General Convention. Last fall she helped facilitate a young adult pilgrimage to Ferguson, Missouri, to study racism, injustice and reconciliation.

Fisher-Stewart is in a unique position to comment about policing in America.

“I am a black person who has been stopped by the police, I am the mother of a black son who has been stopped by the police, I was a police officer who tried to do the best I could do as a police officer knowing there were some times that I did things that were not right. And then I was a police officer who saw and faced discrimination in my own department,” she said.

“Then I put on the collar … and I have to ask, ‘Where is God in all of this?’ ‘Where is God calling us to be?’ ‘And what is God calling us to do?’” said Fisher-Stewart. “And so that is my prayer, that is my struggle, knowing that to change anything in society you have to take a risk, which means you just might lose something, but then you step out on faith knowing that if we lose something, something else will be gained. So that is my prayer, that I am able to take the risk that God is calling me to take to make a change so that we can all see a little bit more of the kingdom of God.”

– Lynette Wilson is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service.



Comments (6)

  1. PJCabbiness says:

    My perspective and analysis differs greatly from what was presented in the video by the Reverand. However, I found her insight to be thoughtful and engaging in relation to the issues presented. I would love to have the opportunity to engage in further dialogue with her in an open forum. Unfortunately, the distance between the different races, cultures and political belief systems in our nation is increasing by the day. There is no dialogue or discussion or even well meaning spirited disagreement anymore.

  2. E. Livingston says:

    In reference to the previous comment… As a member of Calvary where Rev. Fisher- Stewart preaches we would invite you to come and join us for open dialogue. We will have opportunities this fall. Please come to one of our forums. This is how we learn and understand each other.

  3. The Rev. Charles H. Morris, D. Min. says:

    This video presents the most balanced and hopeful thinking, from a person who is a former police officer and now a black, female priest of our Church, that I have ever seen. I wish her well in all her future work in this area especially. In her short talk here, I was educated about the history of policing quite a bit. Her words about reconciliation, particularly that we were never “conciled” from the beginning in America, need to be much further explored and worked on.

  4. Speaking from a project of the American Anthropolical Society and their comprehensive website: RACE, are we so different –
    One finds out that, in fact, we are not so different at all! I remember my father telling me that “the cheapest way to build yourself up is to run someone else down!” Until we are ready to understand the “facts” of how race developed and the humble truth of who we all are there may be no solution.

    1. The truth is there is only one race, the human race. We are all God’s beloved children. I agree that “the cheapest way to build yourself up is to run someone else down!” That is the only way the concept of race comes into being. The church’s job is to proclaim the truth: there is only one race, the human race. We are all God’s beloved children.

  5. Kudos to Rev. Gail Fisher-Stewart, a very credible voice in this wilderness and a very sensitive matter. I agree for the most part with her thinking with two exceptions.
    One, regarding the very basic Black Lives Matter (BLM) name of the organization. White persons hold little respect for that organization for they don’t practice what they preach within the Black Community, for they are killing each other at an alarming rate, far exceeding the law enforcement/black problem.
    Two, Christian Brothers and Sisters are the wrong target-they are not the problem. Christians need to engage with the Lost , persons who do not know Jesus, they are the problem, for knowing Jesus is to Love, and Love for these pesons is the answer for Christians.
    Engaging those two groups in honest open conversation with a purpose and goal of acheiving Peace in a divided Nation.

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