October 19, 2023

A Family for the Episcopal Church

What is it like to be in a multiethnic, multicultural marriage and raising multiethnic, multicultural children who may want to go to TEC.

The first time I visited an Episcopal parish, the sound of spirituals filled the nave, the sermon lifted up the healing ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the occasion of his birthday, and a Black woman celebrated Eucharist with fierce tenderness. I was delighted. Here was a community that cared about professing and embodying racial justice, a church in which I could be in mutually supportive relationship as together we sought to live into shared values of spiritual transformation and social change. I felt hopeful and at home.

A couple years later, I was in my second year of seminary and just beginning the discernment process at that parish, when I met my husband. Unlike me, he was raised in liturgical churches, (Mar Thoma and Methodist) and has attended Episcopal parishes since college. While he is the more seasoned Episcopalian, he has, much more frequently than I, been made to feel like an outsider in this church. He has often been dealt the stereotype of the forever foreigner in Episcopal contexts. Upon meeting him, the first question many ask is, “Where are you from?” with, “So, were you raised Christian?” commonly following close behind.

These assumptions that he is not from “here” and that he is not Christian are made on the basis of his skin color, and are unsurprising statements in a denomination that is 90% white. I suspect my spouse is the first person of South Asian descent whom many of these questioners have gotten to know on a deeper level, and likely one of the few second-generation Indian Americans to have walked through the doors of some of these parishes.

It has primarily been through witnessing my husband’s experiences that I have become aware of the gap between our professed values as a church and our praxis when it comes to racial justice — including my own growing edges as a white woman and member of the clergy. We say in the Episcopal Church that all are welcome, but I have to wonder if there will ever come a time when People of Color won’t be peppered with questions laced with a lack of belonging.

This matter has become all the more urgent since the birth of my twin daughters, who are now almost two years old. I want my girls to experience church as a place of joy and safety through belonging — not a place where they have to justify their presence.

To that end, I want to share three practices that would help each of the members of my multiethnic, multicultural family be treated as valued and contributing members of this church (changes I believe would benefit all of us):

1. Teach the truth of a colonizing and enslaving church.

Through the Episcopal Church, our family has a robust network of friends across the country and around the world. This is a great gift to our daughters, who already receive so much love and care through our wider church community. And, I want my daughters to grow up learning the full truth of the Episcopal Church’s history, including the fact that the Episcopal Church came to be so incredibly wealthy and powerful on the land of indigenous people and on the backs of enslaved Africans.

For example, Virginia Theological Seminary, where I completed an Anglican Studies year, was largely built by enslaved people, and has recently begun making reparations payments to their descendants. And as a Trinity Leadership Fellow, I am directly benefitting from Trinity Wall Street’s estimated holdings of $6 billion (making it one of the wealthiest religious organizations in the world) — wealth derived from land (which now comprises much of Lower Manhattan), stolen from the Lenape people by British colonizers and given to the church by the monarchy in the early 1700s.

I want my daughters to come to understand that this legacy of violence is largely responsible for the generational wealth and social capital our relationship with the institution affords. I intend to teach them that these privileges do not belong to us, and need to be used to promote justice, healing, and belonging, and the building of more equitable systems. Self-emptying is the way of Jesus, whom I hope my daughters will be inspired to follow.

My daughters’ Indian heritage connects them to the global story of the Anglican Communion, with its roots in the British colonial project. I want them to share their grandparents’ pride in the tradition that says Christian faith was not first imposed on India by colonizers, but rather shared by St. Thomas on his cross-continental journey 1700 years prior. My daughters are most assuredly not outsiders. Their presence in the church is a radical act of decolonization (as would be their departure, should they someday choose to leave).

2. Embrace liturgical expressions that honor a wide array of cultural lineages.

When my husband and I were married in an Episcopal parish by our bishop, we incorporated rituals from the Mar Thoma Church wedding ceremony as well: a sari was draped over my head, and my husband tied a necklace with a thread from that sari around my neck. It was sacred and symbolic — a deeply meaningful expression of our families and cultures coming together.

Episcopal worship is generally heavily Eurocentric, and this can be alienating for people and families holding multiple cultural identities. I have experienced many multilingual, multicultural expressions of worship in our church as Spirt-filled and catalyzing of community. I long for my daughters to regularly experience this sort of worship. This requires incorporating liturgical resources from outside of a Eurocentric canon without appropriating. We have to be honest about how hard this is to do well.

Inspired by a conversation between Black poets Hanif Abdurraqib and Fred Moten, white Mennonite pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler notes that the “truth (of Christ) cannot be enacted within the confines of European production of art and aesthetic. Even if we were to attempt a kind of limiting in this way, we’d be dishonest about the extensiveness of theft that produces even the most insular white aesthetics.”

Creating truly multicultural liturgies with integrity means being mindful of the impulse of whiteness to own and control. We can move toward a modality of sharing, of cultural exchange, of welcoming difference as formative and foundational. This is engendered by relationships cultivated with care, compassion, and holy curiosity.

3. Assess our art — AKA for the love of God, take down white Jesus.

He was already cringey and theologically fraught. Now seeing him through my daughters’ eyes, I am increasingly aware of how his presence serves to further marginalize People of the Global Majority. Art speaks volumes about what we believe and value, whether it adorns our stained glass, our Stations of the Cross, or our Children’s Bulletins.

We can let children of color know they are seen and valued — first and foremost by God — and also by our churches, through the art we display. We can provide dolls and books that represent Jesus as the brown Palestinian Jew he was. We can invite artists to depict saints who stood up for racial justice. No need to reinvent the wheel! Illustrated Ministry makes it a point to never depict Jesus as white in its children’s bulletins and coloring sheets. A Sanctified Art produces beautiful resources for the liturgical year, often by artists of color.


Reckoning with and making reparations for the gap between our professions of justice and our praxis as a church is our collective responsibility to our children. And it is healing work for our generation too, as we seek to live into the kingdom of God which Christ promised is already in and among us.