During our time here at General Convention, we have had an opportunity to sing the prophetic words from the Black National Anthem written by James Weldon Johnson. The first opportunity was at Monday night’s Integrity Eucharist celebrating the struggle for inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons in our church. The second opportunity we had to sing this anthem was the following Tuesday morning at the General Convention main worship service. In it, James Weldon Johnson calls out to the children of slaves in this country to continue the struggle for their liberty and inclusion in the overall society. Johnson’s lyrics are as crisp and clear and relevant today as ever when he composed the following stanza:

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.
In both services a number of the attendees were not LGBT or African American yet the song and the call to advocate for justice and liberty resonated throughout, as the Holy Spirit took her place and like a flowing stream rolled down upon God’s people. She called them to simply love God and love their neighbors as themselves. Marriage equality and the election of our first African American Presiding Bishop could not have been accomplished without our allies in the struggle for inclusion. It could not have happened without the realization that we are all God’s children and are called to love and to action, advocating for justice, peace and unity in Christ.
The anthem words do not just speak to the children of slaves or former slaves but can resonate with any community of people that has been marginalized. Our challenge is to allow ourselves, as followers of Jesus, to be transformed in love and to continue to seek to break down barriers of oppression, injustice and intolerance. We are called by the Holy Spirit to love in a way that conquers fear, eradicates bigotry and eviscerates ignorance.
As we wind down to the conclusion of our 78th General Convention, let us heed the words of James Weldon Johnson as there is much work to be done and it will take all God’s children to get us there to the place where Christ awaits us—the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit is calling our church to action. Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring with the harmonies of liberty, justice, unity, dignity, equality and most of all love for all of God’s people.
- The Rev. Dn. Guy Leemhuis, The Union of Black Episcopalians