By Celal Kamran
Feed my sheep, Jesus said to Peter. Tend my sheep was Jesus’ command to church leaders. Three times Jesus commanded Peter so it must be of grave importance. I witnessed the three Bishops of the diocese of Virginia, doing just that, tending to God’s people. Earlier this month, at Iglesia de Santa Maria (St. Mary’s), the Bishops gathered to address the parishioners of the largest Latinx parish in the Diocese of Virginia. The message was simple; we stand by you, the diocese stands by you and your Bishops stand by you. This was the message after a deflating presidential election and anti-immigrant rhetoric that ensued. The rhetoric that threats still the peace of mind and lives of immigrant families, documented or otherwise. What led to this fellowship was heartbreaking reports of bullying and fear mongering tailored towards latinx children in schools. Fear of safety not only in the workplace and schools but in churches too fueled the Bishops to take action. Not far away, a church in Maryland was vandalized with a hate message because they have a mass in Spanish. Now Shannon, Susan and Ted, our Bishops, cannot and did not rid the world of racism or hate. Rather, Bishop Shannon vowed to stand with the immigrant people against racism, institutionalized or otherwise. Even if it means peaceful nonviolent protests. We prayed together for fair pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. We sang and worshiped in Spanish and English. Then we shared a meal together as the Bishops took pictures, laughed and ate alongside those they vowed to stand with. And that made all the difference. The demeanor of the crowd, throughout the night, changed from anxiety to peace, from fear to fellowship as we ended with breaking bread. Even for me as a person of color dealing with my own place in a dramatically changed post election America, it was a powerful moment to see our White Bishops committing to tend to God’s people. The reality did not change, but with the Bishops love and support, it suddenly got easier. Working and living in institutions that can seem to be so against who you are and having someone in power stand for you makes all the difference. And these are not empty words either. Bishop Susan has told me if I ever need anything to let her know. Bishop Ted has taken time this past summer to privately confirm me when we realized there was a irregularity in my previous confirmation. These small acts and words go a long way when they come from leaders of the church. Shannon, Susan and Ted have radically committed to tending to God’s people just as Jesus commanded. And I have seen the fruits of their devotion.