[Diocese of Central New York] Grace Church in downtown Utica played host Dec. 2 to a momentous daylong celebration of the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York featuring an ecumenical panel discussion on repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
The distinguished panel included Central New York Bishop DeDe Duncan-Probe; the Rev. Lee Miller II, bishop of the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and the Most Rev. Douglas J. Lucia, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse. The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, was a special guest.
The panel focused on achieving several crucial goals, including increasing understanding of the historical impact of the Doctrine of Discovery on the ministry of the three denominations, naming and initiating a repentance posture for the complicity and benefits each denomination derived from the harmful impacts of the doctrine, sharing insights gained from relationships formed with local Haudenosaunee elders, and inviting attendees to join in the work of repentance and healing in relationships with Indigenous communities throughout central and upstate New York.
Duncan-Probe, Miller and Lucia have been meeting regularly for years, fostering deep and authentic ecumenical relationships. Their shared commitment to bringing healing in the name of God to indigenous peoples in the area formed the bedrock of this historic event.
Each bishop shared their personal journey of becoming aware of the Doctrine of Discovery, a 15th-century papal bull justifying the seizure and colonization of lands not inhabited by Christians that has had lasting harmful religious and legal impact on indigenous populations across the globe. They also discussed how their denominations have been shaped by and worked to repudiate this historical doctrine.
The panelists will continue their discussions and shared work. All three bishops will participate in another panel on December 8-10 at Syracuse University as part of the conference, “The Religious Origins of White Supremacy: Johnson v. M’Intosh and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery.” They emphasized the ongoing work of deepening relationships with local Haudenosaunee leaders and invited their denominational organizations to join in relationship-based healing efforts.
The day was bookended by messages from Curry, who called for those present to be deeply rooted in the joy of God’s love.
Attendees engaged in smaller workshops throughout the day addressing racial healing, climate change and healing-focused advocacy work. The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism and reconciliation, led a workshop on Sacred Ground, a video-based curriculum that examines and confronts the history of white supremacy in the United States and its continued representation in American institutions.
The day concluded with a festive Eucharist, echoing the theme of finding joy in the work of loving a world often dominated by hurt and darkness.
Entering a new liturgical year, the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York has declared an intentional Year of Joy that will revolve around needs-focused diocesan ministry in the central New York area. As a religious community dedicated in its baptismal vows to the dignity of all persons, the diocese will be focused on healing racial divisions, especially through building a stronger relationship and new reality with the Haudenosaunee and continuing to take an active and visible role in seeking safety and justice for our LGBTQ+ siblings and neighbors.
Additionally, in recognition of the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a crisis of loneliness across all ages, the diocese renewed its commitment to finding ways to connect people across differences and in creative ways.
“We’re are excited about our growing ministries,” Duncan-Probe said. “We’re eager to continue work that builds community, connection, safety and health for all of God’s beloved people, and we invite all people to join us as a community working for peace, dignity, and justice.”