Black Catholics from across the nation’s capital—and beyond—descended upon St. Luke Catholic Church in Marshall Heights last night for the Southeast Deanery Revival, a faith-filled tradition celebrating Black patrimony, Black parishes, and Black uplift.
Colloquially known as the East of the River Revival and in its 32nd year, the gathering is sponsored by the nine parishes in the southeast quadrant of the district, which is predominantly Black—especially east of the Anacostia River, hence the event’s name.
This year’s theme was “In the Midst of It All”, partially in reference to the circumstances that made last year's event virtual—a slight blip in the storied history of what is now one of the largest Black Catholic revivals in the country.
Formerly a three-day event, this year’s was instead held all in one night.
Fr Raymond Moore, pastor of St Thomas More Catholic Church in Washington Highland and area dean, told BCM that the event was originally co-founded by Msgr Ray East of St Teresa of Avila Catholic Church in Anacostia, in the wake of the Imani Temple schism of the late 80s and early 90s.
George Stallings, a Black former Catholic priest in the Washington archdiocese, broke with the Church in 1989 to found his own church, which he announced on the Phil Donahue Show to no shortage of media (and ecclesial) fanfare.
Given the controversy that ensued and the Black Catholics who were scandalized (or even attracted) by the new group, East joined with other local Church leaders such as Sr Marilyn Hopewell, OSP to found an event celebrating authentic—and licit—Black inculturation in the Church.
“That’s what you call the backstory,” said Moore, who also announced during last night’s event that Hopewell passed away on Sunday.
(East himself was unable to attend, being out of the country for a pilgrimage.)
“In the midst of this pain, Lord, you bring us hope, you bring us healing, you bring us love, and above all, you bring us the peace that you alone can give, the peace that surpasses human understanding,” prayed Fr Cornelius Ejiogu, SSJ, pastor of St Luke.
Helping to supply all these things was the Archdiocese of Washington Mass Gospel Choir, directed by Henry Herrera and providing various gospel selections during the service. A team of liturgical dancers from St Teresa also helped to enhance the worship experience.
Fr Robert Boxie III—a Harvard Law grad, former attorney, and current Howard University Catholic chaplain—served as the homilist, preaching on the woman with an issue of blood, relating it to the need for humankind to seek Jesus in times of struggle—such as the COVID-19 pandemic and social upheaval taking place throughout the nation.
The end of his message also spoke directly to the assembled crowd, featuring a spirited call for more vocations in the Black Catholic community, echoing Saturday’s deanery youth rally at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church, a Josephite parish also in Anacostia.
(At Monday’s event, Boxie was joined by former Josephite superior general Fr Michael Thompson, SSJ as the two African-American priests present.)
Boxie also took time to implore a return to Mass and the Eucharist, where he said believers today can touch and be healed by Jesus as was the woman in the gospels.
It was evident that a desire for physical communion was not absent during the revival, as members of various parishes outside of the deanery made the trip to attend, including historic St Augustine Catholic Church in DC and as far away as the Josephites’ St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va.
It would appear that, east of the river and elsewhere, Black Catholicism is alive and well in Washington DC.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).