House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church

The Cloak of Invisibility

Full communion in the church
doesn’t mean what is used to.
Even those who belong don’t belong
if they don’t have the rights
and privileges of others.
The list of nonbelonging belongers is long.
If you’re included in the list
(which means you’re excluded),
You know it,
even though you’ve been assured
that the belonging believers
have compassion for your plight….

Kneeling in Jerusalem” by Ann Weems

I first met Mrs. L. over the phone. I was about to start as a priest in a new parish and Mrs. L’s husband had died a few days before my arrival. I expressed my sympathy and condolences and we made an appointment to meet in person. A gracious and well-dressed woman, Mrs. L. arrived at my office and once again I expressed my deepest condolences for her loss. It was then that Mrs. L crossed her arms, leaned on my desk, looked me in the eye and said. “Let’s get one thing straight. I could give a rat’s ‘a’ about Mr. L.” What proceeded was her telling me her story of over 50 years of physical and mental abuse, while at the same time serving as a pillar in her church community. The church community where I was now serving. Did no one hear her cries? Did no one see her pain, both physical and emotional?  She went on to tell me, “Women didn’t leave their husbands in my day, you just stuck it out and put on a good front. I was invisible.” #churchtoo

Every once in a while, one of those Facebook questions comes across your feed: “If you could choose one superpower, which one would you choose?” I don’t know if it is because my close circle of friends tends to be introverts, but the majority of us choose to be invisible.

In many ways, while very much visible, I can be invisible in this world. I am a woman. I am African-American. I am clergy. My level of invisibility depends daily on situations and the people with whom I encounter. I have recently been enveloped by my new cloak of invisibility of #metoo and #churchtoo.

The echoing of my grandmother’s hushed words over the phone to her friends echo in my memory.  “You know she is a saint to put up with him.” “When she dies she is going straight to heaven.”  “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know” “She knew that about him before she married him.” “Don’t you dare; it will ruin the family’s good name.” Similar words put into my own hushed tones over the phone to my friends, “I can’t say anything to anyone, it would ruin his family’s name.” “I can’t go to my bishops with this.” “It was nothing.” “He is too high profile. No one will believe me.” #churchtoo #metoo

During this penitential season of Lent we are called to walk a little softer, listen more attentively, offer more freely, see more clearly, and pray more deeply.  We never know what is behind the cloak of invisibility worn by our fellow travelers along the way. May you walk in love as Christ loves us all.

The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman serves as the associate chaplain for Episcopal Ministry for Marsh Chapel at Boston University. She also serves as a spiritual director through the Office of Spiritual Life at BU School of Theology. Coleman recently served as rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Somerville, and was the first African-American woman installed as a rector in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. In her spare time she is actively involved with her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, is a master canner and needlepoints.