Updated at 6:19 p.m.
It’s not often that liturgical readings are drawn from both scripture and from the First Amendment, but in a February 20 service in Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, Massachusetts, they will be.
The service is open “to all who support the work of the free press and value this fundamental element of our democracy,” as well as “all members of the press in Western Massachusetts,” according to a statement from the diocese.
More than 800 journalists have been murdered worldwide since 1992 and hundreds jailed, according to the nonpartisan Committee to Protect Journalists.
Bishop Douglas J. Fisher, and the Very Reverend Tom Callard, cathedral dean, will conduct the service, which falls on the day the Episcopal Church celebrates civil rights leader, orator and former slave Frederick Douglass, who died on February 20, 1895, and spoke up for equal rights across racial and gender lines:
Douglass appeared before a a large audience at City Hall in Springfield on the night of April 12, 1865, speaking the topic of “equality before the law.” On another occasion, he also debated the Rev. Leonard Collins, pastor of St. John’s Congregational Church here, on whether blacks had the right to organize their own churches.
In an e mail today to the Cafe, Callard writes:
The blessing of the Journalists came about because of our great concern for the independence and authority of the press during a time of politicization and mistrust in our country. We are choosing the feast day of Fredrick Douglass, who said, “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous,” to pray for the free press and their ability to continue to share a witness that is true. Whatever one’s political beliefs, our prayer is for the honest expression of facts, the courageous uncovering of difficult truths, and the dedicated reporting of a variety of thoughts and opinions. Our prayer is that the national dialogue and the role of the press in that dialogue be encouraged, and not discouraged, for the sake of our community. And we pray for those whose gift is communication, that their powerful voices be ones of virtue, and not division.
From the diocesan statement (linked here):
Douglass was a prophetic witness to the sinfulness of slavery and spoke this truth to a nation in need of repentance and reform. In a speech before the American Anti-Slavery Society, May 11, 1847, Douglass spoke of the need for unrelenting assault on the institution of slavery. “The conscience of the American public needs this irritation. And I would blister it all over, from center to circumference, until it gives signs of a purer and a better life than it is now manifesting to the world.”
Image from Historic Buildings of Massachusetts