July 2020
Racial Justice and Reconciliation

Triple Threat

The Milien love for the church began in a small rural city in Haiti, where, in 1909, my great grandfather started the first Episcopal church in the Jeanjean area. This not only sparked the passion for my dad to go into ministry, but later inspired him to take the gospel across the island to the Dominican Republic where he met my mother.

Growing up as a cradle Episcopalian has been a beautiful thing. Going to church on early Sunday mornings, watching my dad preach from the pews and wishing I was there with him, was my first introduction to loving the church. It never crossed my mind that one day we would move to the United States of America, that my mother would be ordained as a priest and that my siblings and I would grow to have a passion for lay leadership.

Not as welcoming as we claim

I have always considered myself a privileged person for being born in the love and welcoming community that is the Episcopal Church. The phrase “The Episcopal Church welcomes you” and the inclusivity that it brings on loving everyone, no matter their sex, race or sexual identity, has marked my religious journey. When I was a child, I believed that phrase. However, growing up in Miami, Florida, I started to see that it wasn’t completely true. When I participated in my first diocesan convention at the age of 16, I saw that those who had a say didn’t look like me, that people in charge of the youth were retired and older people, people of color were considered ethnic ministries (charity cases) and that saying “Amen!” out loud got stares. That was the first time in my life that I realized the church I loved did not love me back.

We are great at saying we welcome everyone, but do we really? When we look at our congregations, clergy, diocesan offices and the Episcopal Church Center, we do not see diversity. We tend to accept just a few people of color, put some spots of color so that we can claim diversity when we really just want to stay the same in order to avoid going against the status quo. The reality is that our doors are open, but people do not feel welcome. We need to move beyond welcome and start including people without judgment for them to feel the freedom to be who they are in a space that is already foreign to them.

Weapon for love and change or threat?

As a young adult leader in the church, I consider myself a triple threat: young, Black and a woman. I see that as a weapon for love and change, but others see it as a threat to the organized structure of what church needs to “look like.” Some phrases I hear in conventions that always make smile are: we need more young people; “where are the millennials?; we need to revitalize the church. We love saying those words, but we do nothing, or we get in the way of those powerful phrases becoming a reality. Truly, we want the church to stay the same and still claim diversity. We are afraid of stirring the waters; we are scared that people who feel uncomfortable with the change will leave; and we are fearful to be seen as controversial. This fear is the liar that keeps pushing us away from the people we say we want to love, but are really afraid to love.

As a religious community, we have made strides and taken steps that other religious organizations are just starting to talk about. However, we have just begun. We need to stop seeing youth, race and gender as threats, but as powerful traits to help evangelize and revive our church. The work to provoke change needs to start today. The Episcopal Church is full of great voices that still need to be heard, songs that are yet to be sung and dances that are waiting to revive our souls. We are a church full of potential, but we need to take our blinders off to see the possibility of greatness in people that do not look like us.

Efforts to bring change grounded in love

I L-O-V-E the Episcopal church, and I choose to spell out the word because I want us all to stop saying the word just to say it, but to actually mean it. I am proud to be part of this organization that is based on love, evangelism, reconciliation and creation care. I have seen improvement and redemption happening. We are speaking out more, we are putting women and people of color in places of power (our last two presiding bishops are a perfect example), and younger people are opening doors to make their voices heard. My siblings and I are working alongside other young adults, not only in our dioceses but in the wider church, to get into committees and places where voices of color can have a say in the decision-making. Who would have thought that three young Afro Latinos, great-grandkids of a Haitian Christian man, would be creating change in the church?

Every day I am inspired by clergy and lay people in our communities who are using the church platform to openly speak about justice, love and denouncing injustice. Following their example, I have also decided to not only follow Jesus, but to follow his steps as an active member of society, who seeks not only to provoke change but to act on it so that change happens. This church has the potential to stir the world into a more loving place, where we all work together, preach the gospel of Jesus and become the glorious world he wants us to be. Let us make a pledge today to start seeing other people “threats” as welcoming weapons for change. “Today is the day to provoke change.” “Hoy es el día para provocar cambios.” “Aujourd’hui est le jour de provoquer des changements.”

Adialyn Milien, is a cradle Episcopalian originally from the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She currently lives in Miami, Florida, where she serves as the co-coordinator of the Young Adult Ministry of the Diocese of Southeast Florida. Adialyn led the communications team in their most recent Virtual Nuevo Amanecer. One of her current projects is “Social Evangelism: Reaching Souls for God through Social Media.” With this project, she helps both of her congregations, St. Paul Et-Les-Martyr-D’Haiti (Haitian) and Iglesia Santísma Trinidad (Latino/Hispanic), reach individuals on social media outlets with the resources at hand. Adialyn has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, a Master's in Business Administration and a faith-driven passion for working with the people of God.

Resources:

This article is part of the July 2020 Vestry Papers issue on Racial Justice and Reconciliation