Beth-Sarah Wright, St. Paul’s, Atlanta, GA
One God, One People, One Home
“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137). With much ease apparently when that foreign land is Cape Coast, Ghana. When that foreign land unexpectedly feels like home with a strong sense of belonging and being comfortable in one’s skin. From the moment our group boarded the plane in NYC with other travelers who were returning home, we could feel contagious joy and anticipation of returning to Ghana. Our Pilgrim leaders had been to Ghana the year before and they too emanated a certain energy that said, “we’re on journey to a joyous place, wait for it, you just may find home there.” And they were right.
From the moment I set foot on the tarmac in Accra I felt I had returned home. Somehow I had been here before. Somehow I could remember this place I had never seen. It warmed my heart to look around and feel so at home in a strange land. I saw vivid colors. Extraordinary beauty even in places of pain- like the Last Bath, where captured Africans were bathed before being branded, auctioned and sold. Belonging. Light in children’s faces. Statuesque women. Natural bounty. Human dignity. I loved that women were always adorned in these extremely beautiful dresses, seemingly all bespoke based on the ubiquitous sewing machines delicately balanced on women’s heads and in small shops on the streets. And I particularly enjoyed the experience of eating food that we may have expected to be new and different which we soon discovered to be very familiar dishes. I heard woman on our group who grew up solely in the Southern United States saying “But this is my food! This is food I grew up on. Food I cook now!” The Ghanaian influence on Southern food, and in my case Jamaican food was unmistakable.
As a part of our journey we visited the infamous slave castles which I had read about in many a history book and which had been etched only in my imagination.It was so difficult to share the experience of seeing in reality with my own eyes, those ‘slave castles’.Elmina and Cape Coast Castles. Haunting. Unimaginable horror. I stood in both Doors of No Return. Stood in the death cell for those who fought back, and couldn’t see my hand 2 inches from my face-it was so dark with no ventilation. We listened to a wonderful teacher and storyteller who emphasized this was not about blame but rather an opportunity to remember and learn to never repeat the atrocious system of slavery. But it was walking through the dungeons atop the ground that consisted of centuries of compacted blood, sweat, vomit, tears and human waste that utterly broke my soul. All I can say and pray is, God have mercy on all our souls.
On Sunday we were sent out two by two and in my case, three, to different Anglican parishes in Cape Coast. My companions Sharon and Anne and I attended the service at the Cathedral which was located just across the street from one of the slave castles and overlooked the sea in the distance. Even though the service was both in the Akan language and English, the Spirit was alive and well touching our hearts and minds through the energetic rhythms, the fervent and familiar prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, the sharing of communion, the disciplined acolytes, the many priests in their centuries old garments and the wonderful, fluid melding of both Ghanaian culture and Anglican traditions. And then of all folks to meet sitting behind us, were some college students from Sharon’s alma mater! What a small world and what a reminder that the Cape Coast draws ALL. What I loved the most was the joy in giving as men, women, teenagers, children and feisty seniors danced down the aisle to place their giving in a basket at the altar. Talk about cheerful giving!
58% of my DNA is from West Africa. While I can’t determine specifically which country, this trip to Ghana very much feels like coming home. Way more similarities to what I know in Jamaica, my birth home, than differences. The faces, the way we walk, our spirituality, our creativity, the way we speak, the expressions, the ingenuity and entrepreneurial drive, the food, the way we dance...I could go on and on. Not surprised to see the Jamaican flag represented on a van driving on the road in front of our bus. Written above the flag was “Because of God’s Grace.” The Gye Nyame adinkra symbol, which I have long been drawn to and adore and even have a tattoo of, is EVERYWHERE. It means ‘except God’ or the omnipotence of God. I saw God there. Many a food shop, bank, taxi cab, bus invokes the name of God. Not to mention there is a church on every street it seems. What does it mean when a culture invokes God like this in its everyday life? Who knows… but it certainly makes it easy to sing God’s song in a foreign land. Gye Nyame. Except God. The omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God. One God. One people. One Home. Amen!
Black skin envy.
From the first moment to the last, my senses were overwhelmed with the vivid.
Such that I was mesmerized and riddled with black skin envy.
Beauty and grace envy.
Splash and verve and posture and poise envy.
Confidence and carefree envy.
Real skin. Rich skin.
I found myself wanting to be made different. Become acceptable, become like the other. Become African.
There was Lydia the dressmaker.
Bishop Victor employed her to make us new dresses.
It was like being re-born. Becoming African.
Fiber and fabric, it’s who we are and how we are known in the world, it’s our “visibility cloak”. Can we be seen?
The vesting room of the womb. Our mother-wrap. The place where we get our skin.
They wrapped us in their fabrics as only a mother can do. They gave us new skin.
Color and pattern and visual texture. Perfect body shapes and height and hair and perfect fit.
Our vesting room, where we put on clothes. We ‘put them on’, our vestments.
Like a return to mother’s womb we took off one skin and put on another and emerged newborn into the light and the company of women gathered to catch us up in this delivery. To squeal as each of us materialized, through the doorway, making our passage, into new being with drama and flare and color and pattern, so that we can look like the people the graceful beautiful visual feast of the African women we’ve esteemed all week.
Taking off the old and putting on the new. Now we are born again.
The Last Bath
Our guide, an African warrior.
He said we could ask for something.
First he said that he had a gift for us. I wanted this gift, whatever it was. Maybe he looked at everyone, but I felt him look at me when he said it. Maybe because I was staring.
We went to this water called “the Last Bath” where the captives were scrubbed before their purchase, and our guide invited us to pour out a libation. A drink offering. Bring something back to the river. We poured from our plastic water bottles.
He talked of a song of praise in thanksgiving to the ancestors for their lives given, taken, offered. A song of praise in such a desolate place.
It turned out that we could ask for something of the river and the ancients.
I want something from Africa. From the heavy earth there and the bloodshed and sweat that seeps in to the earth and makes it human. Alive. Life producing and fertile.
I told the river and the heavy sodden earth of Africa, “I want what you have”.
What he said you have.
What I know you have.
You have a song and a dance and a drumbeat in your soul. You have joy and love.
It’s what makes you able to live in community. You have the love and joy that it takes.
He said that slavery takes that away.
He said you were hunters and farmers and artisans. And you sing and that we can tell by the way you walk that you can dance.
But slavery makes you run and hide and enter the caves and deep forest because when you go to carry water and do your chores, you are ambushed and carried into captivity.
Then we walked on gold in the river, flint chips of gold and he said,
only royalty walks on gold. And royalty has power. And that if we walk on gold then we are royalty and we have power.
And that we can want something and say what it is and ask for it.
The power he says we have in ourselves can bring about this freedom from slavery.
I said this on the river bank: “Africa. African ancestors of humanity. I want your song and dance and drum beat in my soul that I might be able to live in community with joy.”
Trust without fear of ambush.
I don’t know how to live differently. I am afraid to choose differently, to answer and respond with joy and love. I hide in caves. I need the song and dance and drumbeat first, to be born in me.
I bought a drum and a second small one. Two drums. Change me. Change my soul. Find me. Fill me.
Ursula Simmons, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Atlanta, GA
We will all meet @ the airport. Some of us old friends, some church members, and some strangers and of course our dear couple. I was Blessed and happy to be making this journey with Judy. We have known each other for years; however our work together on the dismantling Racism Commission has brought us closer together than either of us would have ever believed. A short hop to JFK and as a group we begin to know each other. We embark on a much longer flight to Accra. Upon arrival we are greeted with enthusiasm. I take in the environment, the crowded airport, the busy streets, the open markets. All of us are fascinated with the individuals carrying their goods on their heads, especially the ladies.
When we arrive in Cape Coast I was struck by the references to God everywhere you turned. I was surprised by the number of different churches in Cape Coast. We met with Bishop Victor, Canon Kofi and Father Theo to discuss our expectations of our trip. The emphasis being this is not a vacation.I knew this was a pilgrimage to connect with the Diocese of Cape Coast. I was not sure of what my expectations were, I just knew I was drawn to this pilgrimageand I was open to wherever the spirit would lead me. As I have had the time to reflect, I found a poem in my journal by Andrew Schelling about the tourist and the pilgrim. “The pilgrim is different from the tourist; most importantly the pilgrim resolves that the one who returns, will not be the same person as the one who sets out “. I am different not the same person, in a good way. I am so very Blessed to expand my global vision of the church. But I also felt very connected in a very sacred way to my ancestors. I felt like I honored them in a very special way. Having my Sisters and Brothers in Christ from both continents to make the journey with me only enhanced the emotions I felt.
The Bishop sends us off to the mountains to connect with God and nature. Kakum National Park was a true bonding experience for me. First of all I realized very quickly I needed to exchange my cute Hattie purse for a back pack. Ruth offered to carry my back pack. I hate bringing a weak link, but I truly appreciated the help on our very steep climb to our seven rope bridges to cross. I would not have done the climb without the encouragement and support of our group and no back pack. We all had our challenges; mine was the climb and the height. We all crossed all seven bridges, all thirteen of us together. In retrospect I wish I had enjoyed the view a little more. I was always paying attention to the people we would encounter, the housing, people walking and families. Love for family is worldwide. I watched people go about their lives with dignity, pride and purpose.
Sunday morning is Pentecost Sunday. Judy and I are dressed in our red and we have our white hand towels (we did not have handkerchiefs) to wave. We are going to the mountain top St. Theresa of Avila Anglican Church, Father Jonathan Asare Rector. We were early birds and enjoyed the mountain top view. I was taken aback by the beautiful altar. The men of the church were busy putting up the curtains behind the altar and bringing out the musical instruments. The young girls were dusting the pews and chairs. I was struck by the depictions of Jesus looking very, very white on the Stations of the Cross. The ladies of the church were a little reserved at first. However, I found a little friend, about 5 years old; that cuddles up beside me quietly with wonder and curiosity. Father Johnathan introduces us to everyone and we are well received. The sermon for our benefit was done in both English and native tongue. We are all Anglicans and the service was very familiar. Father Jonathan played the organ, was the choir director and preacher. We prayed, and listen to the word of God like we would at home. However we danced in joy and celebration to God, I connected with the singing, dancing and multiple collections. I was reminded of my Grandmother’s AME church when I was growing up and attending church with her. The joy and celebration during the service was electric. I was very humbled by the ladies of the church. They removed their shoes to approach the altar for communion. I had to look up what day I was born. I made my donation on the wrong date. Sorry Thursday collection count. I realize now how important that is to the culture and church collections.
Judy and I would have liked to have spent more time talking with the different women’s guilds. Each guild wore attire that represented their ministry. The women of St. Teresa’s were responsible for the beautiful altar and floor of the church. The pupil was in the process of being build. I was interested in hear more from The Guild of the Good Shepard. We spend our lunch with Father Jonathan, the senior warden Patrick and junior warden Gladys. Judy and I agreed to skip the beach and enjoy more time learning about our church. However, the questioning definitely went the other way. The women’s ministry has a vital role in what is happening in the church. They have a prison ministry for women. Also, extremely important is the prayer ministry. They also, face the challenges women around the world face for women’s rights. We share concerns of violence against women, sex trade of women and the need for skills to provide for themselves and family. This is still a very patriarchal culture. What we shared was love for God, love for the richest of our church tradition and a desire to build a relationship.
Monday morning before gathering, Judy and I were about to order of eggs for breakfast. There was a group of midwives having a conference in our hotel. The ladies intentionally stepped in front of Judy, actually in between us. The young ladies making the omelets acknowledged their presence. She made Judy’s omelet before theirs. I felt some kinda way about it. I sensed it was intentional and disrespectful to Judy. The nonverbal communication was very apparent. I asked Judy how she felt about it. It was then it darned on me the only white people around was the ones with me. (HEllO). I felt protective of Judy and the next morning when they were about to do it again, I had Judy move close to me. In the meantime Judy connected with one of the instructors and shared very meaningful conversation and conversation on women’s health is something to explore more deeply. There was still some skepticism in having outsiders in their space, which was understandable.
I was very impressed with the eye clinic. The services the clinic provides and the efficiency with which the clinic personnel was extremely impressive. Patients were seen from beginning to end within a 2 hour time frame. I was not aware of the high incidence of glaucoma and cataracts. There were multi-educational level professionals working in the clinic. I was also happy to see patient’s blood pressures being checked and I love that the clinic was also a teaching facility. I definitely feel we should be able to reach out to ophthalmologist that would be willing to dedicate to providing some form of service. The clinic was not aware of resources they could reach out to for support, i.e donated eye glasses frames. There were other recommendations for the clinic. As a diocese we should be able to support the clinic with information to expand their outside resources. An important identified need is a bus to transport patients.
I was happy we had the opportunity to speak with some of the members of the ADCC (Anglicans Women’s Ministry Diocese of Cape Coast). There is a women’s vocational training convention in August. Mission for women’s ministry is to train, build and send. Women are trained how to do bead work, make soap, sew, hair care and how to process fish.
Empowerment of women to sustain themselves is important. On mother’s day there was a health walk, visit to the women’s prison and breast cancer screening. My question still is how we best support them in their ministries. Would a project similar to the United Way’s Shoe box project be helpful to them? Is their need more of a funding need or would having a conference on women’s health be helpful?
Ghana Reflections II
We visited the students at various schools. Students were preparing for their final exams. I cannot help but compare how blessed our students at home are; air conditioning for one thing. I was excited to see new buildings going up. It was also, interesting to witness the encroachment happening and how the diocese is dealing with it. I am prayerful that gets resolved. I felt a little bad at the cooking school, in that we may have distracted some students from paying attention to what they were cooking. What fun at the seminary Fantasia was definitely a hit and I LOVED Steve’s response to the guys. Our guy definitely looked out for us, especially Fantasia. What a joyful reception we received. I loved the fact they’re was a female seminarian. I also, was impressed by the seminarians identifying themselves by their region and tribe. There is something very powerful in knowing where you come from, where your roots are.
The visits to the castles (dungeons) and last bath were a very powerful part of my Cape Coast experience. I cannot call Elmina a castle, for me it was a place of great pain. The church above the women’s dungeon was just painful. The dungeons to this day still hold the ruminants of my ancestors; I could smell their bodies and feel their pain. At Cape Coast Castle (dungeon) I became over heated in the room where the altar was. I don’t know if it was just the heat, that made me want to leave that negative space. I felt like I could not breath from the moment I walked in there. I see The Door of No Return and feel the emotion of returning AKWAABA, Welcome Home.
The trip to the Ancestral River Park (The Last Bath) was just as impactful as the dungeons. We walk barefoot to the Slave River, where the stagnant water and flowing water meet. Where my ancestors were marched to be bathed and branded. I stood in that water and remembered my ancestors, especially my dad Dexter and cousin Dexter who always said I needed to return home. As I looked up from the water in prayer, there is Judy making the sign of the cross on my head. We Bless each other, no words are necessary. We sit together both in our own thoughts and feelings. I am releasing the hurt, pain and sadness of my ancestors’ journey. I leave my mark on the wall of those that have returned. My returning name is Kaakyire Aba Ursula. I must acknowledge learning of the tribal influence and participation in the slave trade was important for me to learn. I have tried to talk about it with friends and family when I got home and it has been difficult for them to accept. My cousin told me it would be difficult to put my experience into words and she was right. It is difficult to explain what the heart feels.
I was fortune to have the opportunity to go to SSJE (Society of St. John The Evangelist) in Cambridge Massachusetts shortly after our return from Ghana. One of the things Brother Jim suggested was to go and pray in a place where the wall have been surrounded in prayers. If you have never been to SSJE it is a very spiritual retreat, right on the Charles river, behind Harvard Square. Before they renovated the chapel, the stone was very dark from all of the incense burned over decades. When they renovated the chapel, one stone was left untouched so the remembrance of all the prayers would be always there. I needed to be in a place where the walls did not have the stench of human remains, pain and suffering. I needed to see that remaining brick burned from the prayers rising with the incense. I absorbed the prayers from my Brothers and Sisters in Ghana and feel their present in the Chapel. Brother Jim reminded me I was now on a different pilgrimage. I needed to allow myself the space to be still, let the spirit work within me. Just being present for the daily offices was healing, restorative and uplifting. I will not let the darkest of the past, dictate my belief of healing and reconciliation in the present.
To close, I was blessed to have this tremendous opportunity. I do not want the relationship to end here. How we as a diocese and Cape Coast will continue to communicate will be key. I have been in contact with Father Jonathan Asare since I have been back. I hope to keep the line of communication open not just with him. I cannot wait for all of us to brainstorm together. I already have a possible contact for an ophthalmologist, (I am working on that). Members of Holy Innocents’ are waiting to her Judy and I talk about all of our work. We have a new rector and I cannot wait to hear his vision and share mine. Thank You for allowing me to be a part of the pilgrimage to Ghana. I will forever be grateful.
Steve Franzen, parishioner at Holy Family, Jasper, GA
A Visit to Cape Coast Diocese-One Pilgrim’s Perspective
After a whirlwind of overseas travel, a cross-country trip from Accra to Cape Coast, and a day of orientation, Terry (Franzen) and I were delegated to attend St. James the Apostle for Sunday services. When we arrived, we were welcomed by Father Kojo Eshun and by a gentleman detailed to shepherd us through our visit. After a brief introduction we were escorted to a pew a couple of rows behind the seated choir. The sanctuary was spacious and airy, and the rising heat was mitigated by a phalanx of furiously beating ceiling fans.
The service started with an opening hymn and the familiar rhythms of the liturgy, but soon the vibrant power of the African Anglican experience burst forth. A band backed by an infectiously frenetic drummer drove the colorfully clad parishioners into the aisles time after time. The predominantly female congregation joined the choir in a chorus of joyous praise.
Father Kojo called us up to introduce us and bless us. (Terry had casually mentioned her wish for grandchildren, so Father Kojo just asked God to bring us some!). We felt so welcome by everyone and the kids all gathered around after the service while Terry took photos and showed them on the camera.
Afterwards, we were invited next door to the rectory for lunch. We met Father Kojo’s charming wife who took time to prepare us a delicious lunch between her stints delivering babies as a professional midwife. The wardens and other notables ate with us and we had a freewheeling discussion about world affairs and the issues facing St. James.
I must add that Father Kojo ministers to six congregations in addition to St. James and had already conducted a service at one church before he arrived at St.James on Sunday. He also serves as chaplain for Bishop Victor!
Throughout our stay we were surrounded with love and generosity.From Bishop Victor to the man who makes the communion wafers, everyone we met was interested in sharing experiences and forming friendships. All of this warmth contrasted somewhat starkly with our encounters with the sobering history of the slave trade. Our visits to slave forts at Fort Elmina and Cape Coast Castle as well as the haunting scene of the “Last Bath” at a serene shaded river bank 30 miles inland were grim but illuminating reminders of a dark past. The price paid for that past in human suffering, death and degradation is a bill which we all continue to pay today.
Terry Franzen, parishioner at Holy Family, Jasper, GA
St. James the Apostle
Most of the members are women, but the leaders were men except for the choir director and Sunday school leader. There were 2 wardens, one of whom was a woman but she did not seem to be present. All clergy were men. The service was in English and the tribal langauge because we were present. There was much lively singing and dancing which I loved, with a band and a screen with the words. The priest blessed our marriage. There were 3 offerings including one for those who tithe, a practice we should carry over to our churches!
My favorite part of the pilgrimage was going to the last bath and particularly taking off our shoes and walking barefoot to the river. I thought that was so moving. I wish we had gone there before we visited the castles. I also loved the remembrance on the wall of those incarcerated in the us. I have shared that once at the prison and will do so again tonight. The women who have already seen that picture were so overwhelmed that someone in Africa thought of them.
Jordan Moody, Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA
Parish visit reflections
On Sunday, May 20th, Kathy Broyles and I were dropped off at Rev. Thomas Thompson Anglican Church. Sitting halfway up a hill, the church has a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. For me, palm trees and the coastline have always been some of the most beautiful parts of God’s creation, so I was delighted that the sights and sounds of the shore would be in the background of our worship. Windows to the nave were open wide, and a gentle breeze occasionally flowed through the heavy, humid air, aiding the electric fans that were strategically placed to provide relief from the heat of the day.
On that Pentecost Sunday, we celebrated together with beautiful worship that was a unique blend – fully Anglican and fully Ghanaian. Father Jojo, a seminarian, and a team of greeters made sure that Kathy and I were fully welcomed. As Father Jojo recounted how the Spirit of God could be found in creation, in Ezekiel, and in Acts, he also reminded us that the Spirit manifested our togetherness there on that day. It was not coincidence that we, delegates of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, were there with them, a parish in the Anglican Diocese of Cape Coast on this holy feast day. Pentecost is a wonderful celebration of the renewal and community that the Spirit provides. For me, sharing in Eucharist with the parishioners of Thomas Thompson Church was a beautiful example of how language or any other cultural difference does not separate God’s family. As we navigate what this companion diocese relationship will continue to look like, I am certain that God – our God of truth and faithfulness – is with us. The Spirit is at work, and we can understand, love, and serve one another.
“We need to tell the world that we can live together with our diversity.” – Bishop Victor Atta-Baffoe
I traveled to Ghana knowing that encountering the past would allow me to more fully experience and engage with the future.
As someone with ancestors from the lands we call Europe, Africa, and America, I feel that there is often a constant conflict deep within me. I am beautifully and wonderfully made, but the history embedded in my DNA sometimes seem at odds with one another.
I truly did not know how to prepare for this pilgrimage to a land where some of my ancestors lived and flourished before they were captured and sold into slavery by another set of ancestors who initially came here in search of gold.
I was going there to return to my roots. I was going there to ask for forgiveness. I was going there to seek clarity on how to move forward with hope.
Our group traveled to Assin Manso or “the last bath” – site of the river where many slaves were bathed and cleaned up before being sold to some middle men operating in that horrific industry.
Standing on the edge of the river, I truly did not know what to think or feel. I was numb, struck by the history of those sacred waters. Desperate to communicate with God, I recited the Lord’s Prayer over and over and over again. Just as ancestral conflict is embedded in my DNA, so is that prayer.
In that moment, I was able to feel a gentle hope.
Lord, Thy Kingdom come and Thy will be done.
All of my childhood summers were spent at the beach. The coast of South Carolina is a second home to me, and the ocean has always been a personal source of peace and renewal.
And then I stood on the other side of the Atlantic.
Strong, beautiful Africans enslaved on this land were forced to journey two or more months by foot before reaching the coast. The coastline was not terrain that they would have been familiar with. How unsettling it already would be to be held in the dark, suffocating dungeon of a slave castle – and then to hear those unfamiliar waves constantly pounding against the other side of the wall…
For the first time, the crashing waves and a salty sea breeze brought me a deep sadness. How sacred is that shore that was the departure point for those heinous slave ships.
There is something oddly poetic about standing on the coast of Ghana for the first time and realizing that I know so well the place in America (both Georgia and South Carolina) where many of the ships that sailed these waters landed with their human cargo.
We must stand and acknowledge our past so that we can look to the future.
In addition to what being in Ghana felt to me, so many people shared their personal stories and advice with me. I will be forever grateful for those laughs and words of wisdom.
It is hot and we eat
Plantains and banku
fermented corn and cassava mash
formed and served in plastic bags
We are building connections
Is it poverty
Or simpler living
I see the clash of old and new
And the issues that rise from
The collision of cultures
Waste and want
Along with the calm of contentment
Love and need
Hope and forgiveness
A people of joy
Born and raised on greed's foundation
Ghana tugs at me
I long for their spirit
I weep for their loss
I rejoice in their resilience
I have received much
Through the generosity of their spirit
The bright smiles on dark faces
The laughter and the embraces
I want to take it home
Hold it in my heart
Gently and reverently
And learn to give eagerly
As they do
Ann Williamson, Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA
Our Third Day
Our third day of the Pilgrimage, it was Pentecost Sunday and our group was we divided into groups of two or three and we visited different parishes in the Diocese. I was paired with the Reverend Dr. Sharon Hiers, our trip leader and my parish Senior Associate Rector, and Beth-Sarah Wright, wife of Diocese of Atlanta Bishop Rob Wright. The three of us were scheduled to visit the Cathedral, where Bishop Victor would be preaching. Ironically, right across the street from the church is the Cape Coast Slave Castle. One of the contradictions of Africa for me is the beauty and the pain is all wrapped up together. Even on the van ride to the various churches Sunday morning, I observed that one of the parishes was in near abject poverty, co-located with what appeared to be the village dump, yet had the most stunning view of the ocean I had seen yet.
When we arrived at the cathedral, it was warm and stuffy. Like almost every building in Ghana, it was not air conditioned. Nevertheless, the congregation was dressed more formally than most people would dress for a wedding or a funeral in winter in the United States. Moreover, I was struck with the pomp and circumstance of the church procession in light of the limited means of the people in Ghana. The acolytes had the most beautifully laundered and crisply pressed vestments and polished black shoes. They processed into the church in a military-style march and their movements were synchronized like a Swiss watch. The only reminder at all I had that these were actually little boys was during Bishop Victor’s nearly hour-long sermon, when they all fell completely and unapologetically asleep. I enjoyed all of the service, but found the readings especially moving. For some reason, sitting in that place, on that side of the world, reading the words of Ezekiel on a projection screen in my native tongue (English), but hearing someone speak about raising up dry bones in a tribal language made the words seem primal - - as old as the Earth itself. As I listened to the reader, I began to weep from a very deep place, without explanation even to myself.
The day before we had visited the Kakum National Park and experienced a canopy walk among the treetops along a network of rope bridges. Some of our party were fearful of heights and others of the swinging rope bridges, especially when nearby school children were having fun jumping on the bridges.Our guide attempted to assuage our obvious anxiety by informing us that all the bridges were tested by having elephants walk them before the park opened to the public. While it made for a nice bit of folklore, the obvious practical challenges of getting elephants to the treetops to navigate narrow rope bridges made me discount the veracity of that story.
Personally, I wasn’t worried about the heights or the construction of the bridges, but I had a smaller fear to wrestle with: staph infection from the rough rope hand rails we were using to steady ourselves as we crossed each bridge. I felt the best way to keep my health in Ghana was to keep my external barrier intact (no blisters, scrapes, abrasions). As I began to cross the first of the seven bridges, I hesitated to put my soft, white American hand on that part of the rope. My hand that had never held a machete to cut down sugar cane. My hand that had never threaded the needle and cranked a manual sewing machine. My hand that had never woven a basket out of natural materials collected from the land around me. I had to recognize that if the fear I had that my delicate hands would become scratched and possibly contract a disease from this well-used rope was at all founded in logic, it was due to the delicacy of my hands that had never had a day’s hard labor to form callouses that would protect me from such a fate. Therefore, with that understanding, I assumed prayer pose from the YMCA yoga class and walked purposefully down the center of each bridge as if my spine were connected by a long thread and the end of that thread was being held taut just overhead. My companions called me brave and seemed to admire the tactics I used to cross each bridge, swiftly and without hesitation. However, I didn’t feel worthy of their praise. Funny, what passes for courage or strength to the casual observer may often be something else altogether.
We began as 12 pilgrims. Some in our group were well-known to one another, even married. Others were acquainted but little more than friendly strangers. Regardless of where we started, by the end of our journey together, we were family. I would trust these dozen souls with my purest thoughts and my most frightening insecurities, for we have traveled together in miles and in sprit. While this sounds like a tale about a group of people, it is really about one person: me. It is about my journey in the midst of the greater group and how this pilgrimage formed me and changed me. It is about how and where I heard the voice of God and bent my ear to listen. It is about locks that opened and closed and rearranged in my body and mind to accept new realities, or at least reality in a new-to-me way. My fervent prayer is that even as the memory fades, may the body and soul remember. Medaasi.
Ann Fowler, Church of the Epiphany, Atlanta, GA
Ghana Reflections 2018
I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel with groups from the Diocese of Atlanta to Ghana in 2017 and 2018. During both visits I was struck by the warmth, generosity, and hospitality of the Ghanaian people and I'll always treasure the time I've spent in that beautiful country.
I think it's important to learn about the slave trade that existed between Africa and the United States because of its impact on our history and the lives of so many of our citizens, even today. Two particular slave sites held special meaning for me during our 2018 trip: Assin Manso and Elmina castle.
Assin Manso is the place where slaves were taken to rest, eat, and have their "last bath" in a river, before being auctioned and sold to merchants. Slaves brought a higher price after recuperating at Assin Manso, since they had become better "products" before arriving at the trading forts and castles on the coast. A guide took our diocesan group down a long path in the woods to the river. We removed our shoes as a sign of respect and walked in silence, while the guide pointed out interesting details along the way. As we journeyed through the forest I thought about the thousands of enslaved people who walked the same path and what they must have felt; scared, angry, lonely, helpless ... Then we reached the river bank and our guide helped us down the hill and into the shallow water. At the river I felt an overwhelming sadness for the cruelty that people inflict on each other and for the horrible injustices people of color have had to endure over centuries.
But there were positive moments during our time at Assin Manso, too. I saw good friends of different races in our group bonding over this profound river experience. And just as we were about to leave, the Rev. Ruth Pattison immersed her entire body in the water. Witnessing her adventurous spirit and deep faith moved me. Before leaving the site, black members in our group were invited to write thoughts and messages on a wall commemorating the return of slaves' ancestors. This was one of several occurrences when I saw our pilgrims of color making meaningful connections with their ancestral roots in West Africa. Some said they felt like they had come home. I was glad to be there to share in their joy.
Elmina Castle was one of the slave castles we visited. At one point during our tour, the guide slammed the door shut on the windowless, airless, pitch-black cell where we stood. Even in that brief moment, we experienced the terror of being imprisoned. The horror of slavery felt very real to us as we stood on dungeon floors layered with years of human sweat, blood, and excrement, and touched walls scarred by chains that had bound thousands of unfortunate victims. In stark contrast to the slave dungeons were the bright, airy and spacious quarters of the white soldiers, government officials and families who lived on the upper floors of the castle, which offered scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean. How could these people, these Christians, be so detached from the human suffering going on beneath them? I wondered what I would have done. And I wondered about times when I might have been detached from the suffering of people around me.
I visited St. John's church with LaFawn Gilliam. I enjoyed attending church services in Ghana because of the festive music, dancing, and hospitality. The offering highlighted every service. Parishioners sang, clapped, smiled and danced up to the altar to give joyfully to the church. It was truly a celebration honoring God. The parishioners at St. John's were warm and friendly and the Servers Guild members were interested in partnering with our church, perhaps through prayer or by forming relationships on social media.
I loved seeing and purchasing colorful Ghanaian textiles during my two trips. I appreciated the vibrant patterns printed on fabric with wax resist techniques or woven into Kente cloth by artisans in Bonwire. I hope to share the beauty of Ghanaian fabrics with the children in my after school art classes at Emmaus House this fall. Thanks to the incredible hospitality and generosity of Bishop Victor Atta-Boffoe and his wife Dorcas, the women in our diocesan group were treated to personally designed and fitted dresses by Lydia, a local seamstress. This unique undertaking allowed us to visit a small roadside Ghanaian shop, choose attractive African fabrics, and interact with a successful and talented shopkeeper. I love my Ghanaian dress, and it reminds me of Bishop Victor's and Dorcas's kindness whenever I wear it.
I had wonderful traveling companions on this trip. Young college students, retirees, compassionate nurses, committed social justice workers, creative artists, dedicated Episcopal clergy and lay leaders; all enriched my experience. I'm especially grateful for Sharon and her kind leadership. She led reflections every evening which helped us deal with our emotions, particularly when we had visited disturbing places during the day. And she also helped us laugh and have fun when we needed to.