As Shakespeare’s King Henry IV famously observes, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” The same could be said of the bishop’s miter, more so perhaps over the past few years, as the pandemic, numerous incidents of racial injustice, and overall social and political unrest have compounded the challenges facing the Church. Author and theologian Westina Matthews, however, found resilience and strength in the five Black women who are bishops in The Episcopal Church, as chronicled in This Band of Sisterhood: Black Women Bishops, on Race, Faith, and the Church, released by Morehouse Publishing this winter. The book has been a common read for Berkeley students, and Matthews was the guest speaker at Berkeley’s Wesley-Royce Leadership Colloquium on April 4.
Adjunct professor at the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Theological Seminary, Matthews edited the online conversations held over several months in 2020 among Carlye J. Hughes (Bishop of Newark), Kymberly Lucas (Bishop of Colorado), Shannon MacVean-Brown (Bishop of Vermont), Phoebe Roaf (Bishop of West Tennessee), and Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows (Bishop of Indianapolis), the first Black woman elected diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church. Baskerville-Burrows received an honorary doctorate from Berkeley at this past fall’s Convocation.
The five bishops, who did not all know each other at the outset of the conversations, shared with each other their backgrounds, their challenges, and the inner resources that helped them transcend those challenges and bring skilled, courageous leadership to their respective flocks. The collected thoughts captured in This Band of Sisterhood has been an inspiring read for Berkeley students, and at Colloquium Matthews provided further insights into the wisdom shared by these church leaders. She also engaged in a lively conversation with the Berkeley students on a wide range of topics, from leadership in a crisis to contemplative spiritual practice, and even the power of networking (for example, advising the Berkeley students on how to start collecting their “I Know You”s). After the session in Niebuhr Hall, Matthews enjoyed dinner with Berkeley staff and students at the Berkeley Center.