Sometimes, it is the unexpected things in life that prove to be the most rewarding. A few days ago, we learned that the Collegiate Church of New York, Intersections’ “parent” organization, was recognized as an “Exemplar of Love and Forgiveness in Governance” by George Mason University in Virginia. Along with such peace and justice icons as Desmond Tutu, John Lewis and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Collegiate Church was nominated for its Healing Turtle Island act of atonement with the Lenape people, the original inhabitants of what is today New York City. Turtle Island is a term traditionally used by Native Americans for both Manhattan Island and all of North America.
To be in such esteemed company is deeply humbling. Of the current list of 27 Exemplars, the Collegiate Church is the only organization—the others are all individuals. This is fitting because our peace and justice work is undertaken in community. (A full list of Exemplars can be found here.)
In a 2009 ceremony in lower Manhattan jointly organized by Intersections and representatives of the Lenape people, the Collegiate Church publically acknowledged the imposition of a destructive legal and financial system upon New York’s first inhabitants. In truth, the love and forgiveness came from our Lenape brothers and sisters as illustrated by the words of Carmen McKosato Ketcher, who responded from the podium, "I had to dig deep in my heart and ask, 'can I truly forgive?'...Yes, we forgive you.” And then, with a twinkle in her eye, she scolded, “But don't forget, we are still alive and well." (You can see more information, and watch a six minute video of the ceremony here.)
Indeed, at that time we made the commitment to carry the journey of healing beyond the one-day ceremony, and we continue our work today with the Lenape and others from the Native American community through educational, cultural and social justice partnerships. One highlight includes laying the groundwork for a Lenape Center in Manhattan. My friend Curtis Zunigha, Tribal Manager of the Delaware Tribe of Indians and Board Member of the Lenape Center stated, “Chief Paula Pechonick and I recall being on that stage in lower Manhattan in November 2009. We gave a heartfelt prayer and statement about the enduring Lenape spirit. Today's news confirms the lasting aspect of the ‘Healing Turtle Island’ atonement ceremony.”
The case for the church’s nomination states, “After many years of silence, the Collegiate Church's bold step to recognize their role in the unfortunate history of the Lenape people is worth commending. This single act needs to be emulated by other colonies and their colonial masters as a way of renewing relationships. In fact, the Collegiate Church has made the commitment to carry this journey of healing beyond the one-day ceremony, and continues to work with the Lenape community four years later. The Collegiate Church of New York is a successful exemplar of an organization that is practicing love and forgiveness.”
We humbly share this award with the people of the Lenape tribes—from New Jersey to Oklahoma, from Pennsylvania to Ontario—without whose “love and forgiveness” this award would not have been possible.