I live in West Hartford, Connecticut. The Town of West Hartford voted to separate from the City of Hartford in the mid-nineteenth century when Hartford was a very prosperous city and West Hartford was a small farming community. By 1980 much of our shared history had been forgotten and the demographic profiles of these two communities had become radically different. West Hartford had become a prosperous suburb while Hartford had lost thousands of residents as manufacturing jobs were outsourced and housing stock decayed. Hartford was well on the way to becoming a very small and poor city with a population of less that 120,000. In many ways Prospect Street, the town/city boundary, had become an invisible wall. By the time I started working in Hartford, I was convinced that many people in the Town of West Hartford believed that a better name for their town would be “Not Hartford.”
New England’s history of town-centered local government has aggravated the separation between suburbs, rural towns, and cities in Connecticut. Neighboring towns often compete against one another to lure a company to relocate. We have been slow to regionalize for better and more equitable educational opportunity, for strong public transportation and broad economic development. Community development organizations and social service agencies are slow to share their successes and failures with one another because they are competing for the same grant money. Churches in Connecticut are not immune from these tendencies. And woven throughout all of these realities is the power of racism.
After the horrific shootings in Sandy Hook in December 2012 that took the lives of twenty six year olds, six teachers and administrators, the shooter’s mother and the shooter, himself, there was a successful push for strong common sense gun reform legislation in Connecticut. There was also, rightly, a backlash within Connecticut’s urban communities that resources still were not being adequately provided to address the causes and particularities of gun violence in our cities.
This inequity is a product of our culture and our heritage. In the last couple of years there have been important steps led by parents of Hartford and parents of Newtown to link the memories of their children and to link advocacy for change that can affect all of the regions of our state, and, I think, be a model for advocacy across the country. The stark reality is that the tears of the families of victims of gun violence are the same. For the past two years, Mothers United Against Violence, a Hartford based parents group, has joined the Newtown Action Alliance for legislative lobbying in Washington and the annual Vigil in Remembrance of All Victims of Gun Violence at the National Cathedral. And Newtown organizations have joined with Mothers United Against Violence to march through the streets of Hartford and advocate for resources at our state capitol. By the grace of God there is a new reality among us: we show up.
Quite frankly this is hard work that goes against the patterns of our fragmented culture. And here is where the Episcopal Church can be so very important. We believe in a God who has already broken down the walls of hostility that divide humanity and who continues to equip people of faith to build bridges of understanding and pathways to new life. Our church structure provides the excellent opportunity to bridge the disparate concerns of urban, suburban, and rural because our parishes exist in all of these regions. Our dioceses are microcosms of our cultural settings. Our theology underscores that all lives matter and that all communities matter.
The challenge we face is one of commitment: can we reach out beyond our selves and the very ‘local’ of our lives to embrace the diversity, complexity, and possibility of relationships across difference which can truly affect lasting change?
I pray we can.
James E. Curry
Bishop Suffragan of CT, retired