On July 6, at its annual awards dinner in Baltimore, the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) presented its Exemplary Ally award to the Diocese of Southern Ohio. The award was accepted by Deputy Deborah Stokes-Wayne, chair of the diocese’s deputation and a member of St. Phillp, Columbus.
During the award presentation, UBE leaders presented Deputy Stokes-Wayne with a ceremonial check, pledging their intent to pay off the balance of a loan from the diocese, part of a 2016 debt restructuring in which the diocese forgave $50,000 of an outstanding $100,000 loan.
“Words cannot adequately express how grateful we are to the Diocese of Southern Ohio for your steadfast support over the years,” the Very Rev. Kim Coleman, UBE national president, said in announcing the award. “The diocese has been a tremendous ally. We look forward to many more years of partnership in the work of ensuring that all of God’s people have a place at the tables of decision-making in our beloved Episcopal Church.”
“The work of racial reconciliation requires the commitment of many generations, and to live and to minister in a diocese so dedicated to this part of God’s mission is a blessing for any bishop,” the Rt. Rev. Wayne Smith, bishop provisional, said. “Both UBE and the Diocese of Southern Ohio have followed history’s painfully slow bending toward justice. Know that I am humbled to stand in the legacy of such steadfast witness.”
John Harris, a former UBE national president and member of St. Simon of Cyrene, Lincoln Heights, says that the relationship between the diocese and UBE dates back to 1987, when the organization’s annual meeting was held on the campus of Xavier University. It was, he says, the first time that UBE’s annual meeting had been held west of the Alleghenies.
“UBE was awarded a $10,000 grant from the Office of Black Ministry to support the conference that had to be requested and administered by the office of the diocesan bishop,” Harris recalls. Bishop William G. Black, who was bishop of Southern Ohio from 1979 to 1992, provided an additional $20,000 to help underwrite the conference.
The relationship deepened in 1989, when UBE’s national offices moved to the Diocese of Southern Ohio. “The diocese in many ways has served as the fiscal agent for UBE by providing a series of grants, advances, loans and loan guarantees to support UBE during those times of shortfalls in annual revenue or unexpected expenses,” Harris said. The UBE office remained in the diocese until 2009.
In 2002, Harris says, UBE was forced to cancel its annual meeting due to a national boycott of downtown Cincinnati called after local police shot a young unarmed Black man in the back. Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr., who served as diocesan bishop from 1992 to 2005, called for a summit on racism and met with local hotel owners on behalf to UBE to serve as guarantor of $73,000 that the organization owed to local businesses.
“When one looks at the meaning of the word “exemplary,” it truly describes the relationship and support that the Diocese of Southern Ohio has provided the Union of Black Episcopalians over these past 35 years,” Harris said. “The Diocese of Southern Ohio has been a model of inspiration and shared vision of eradicating racism from the church and society. Over the past 35 years, it has been the trellis that has supported UBE to grow and become the organization it is today.”