Two Upvalley Episcopal churches, St. Luke’s in Calistoga and Grace in St. Helena, will join a national effort to remember and honor the first enslaved Africans at noon Sunday, Aug. 25.
Church bells will be tolled for four minutes to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in North America in August 1619. The National Park Service put out a call to churches around the country to mark 400 years of African American history and culture. The event is part of the Healing Day events being held at Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Virginia, which is where the first slave ship landed, near Jamestown. It is also the site of the first emancipation policy decision during the Civil War, so it marks both the beginning and end of slavery in the United States.
At St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the community is welcome to gather at 11:45 a.m., in the church’s backyard for readings and prayer before the ringing of the bells. You may bring your own bell or ring the church bell.
In St. Helena at noon on Sunday, the Grace Church congregation will gather to ring the bells and also will dedicate the stained glass “Justice” window, which is in the stone bell tower and faces Spring Street.
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The stained glass window is a gift from Diane and Whitney LeBlanc, Angwin residents and longtime members of Grace Church. Whitney is a skilled stained glass artist who has created 16 stained glass windows in the sanctuary since 2002, when the stone church was first enlarged and seismically retrofitted. He said the window is about justice and the end of slavery, adding the words emblazoned on the window are from Micah 6:4: “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you.”
Images on the stained glass window include two hands shackled, a line of Jews walking from Egypt, and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and a slave with the word “Emancipation” underneath. The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, said the window “links the slavery of God’s people in Egypt to the slavery of God’s people on American soil, pairing an image of the Exodus with an image of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.”
LeBlanc said the new window is one of the largest in the church, 3 feet by 5 feet, adding it took him about 11 months to design and fabricate the window. His work has doubled the number of stained glass windows in the church, from 17 original windows to 34. And that doesn’t include the clerestory window, which in itself is 17 panels, with the Bible verse “I lift mine eyes unto the hills – from whence cometh my help?”
Talking about the noon celebration on Sunday, Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry said, “I’m inviting us as The Episcopal Church to join in this commemoration as part of our continued work of racial healing and reconciliation. We can join together with people of other Christian faiths and people of all faiths to remember those who came as enslaved, who came to a country that one day would proclaim liberty. And so we remember them and pray for a new future for us all.”