Another World is Possible: February ESC Pauli Murray Pilgrimage

by The Rev. Michaelene Miller

On Saturday, February 12th, 2022, the corps members of the Episcopal Service Corps Network gathered on zoom for a Virtual Pilgrimage across time and space with The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray. It was this same weekend, 45 years ago in 1977, that Pauli Murray celebrated their first Eucharist at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC – where many of their ancestors (both enslaved persons and slave owners) were raised. The ESC network invited these pilgrims to learn about and respond to the invitation of The Rev. Dr. Murray’s life witness and legacy in the realm of social justice and building Beloved Community.

Together, corps members reflected upon the reality of intersectionality within their own identities, looked back to see how the past shapes their call today, and listened for God’s unfolding dream of reconciliation for all of creation.

The pilgrimage began with prayer and corps members set intentions for the journey. The network then met up with Barbara Lau, the Executive Director of The Pauli Murray Center in Durham, North Carolina, and Callie Swaim-Fox, the ESC fellow serving at the Center, who led us on an encounter back through time to imagine the historic place and people that shaped Pauli Murray as they grew up.

Lau shared about how Durham, North Carolina rapidly developed economically after the Civil War and during the Reconstruction Era, aided by a powerful black community of entrepreneurs and business owners in an area that became known as the “Black Wall Street.” Corps members imagined the impact of a tiny, one-room library in Durham that Murray called a “place of magic” because it taught them as a child about the “power of the written word” to liberate, give voice, and access to the world beyond one’s physical and geographical area.

Lau introduced the network to the family members who raised Murray – their Aunt Pauline Fitzgerald Dame and grandparents Robert and Cornelia Fitzgerald. Each instilled within Murray a deep passion for education and faith, so much that Murray attributes their career as a civil rights lawyer to their grandfather and their ministry as an Episcopal priest to their grandmother.

Corps members broke up into small groups to process and share with others across the network how the place they call home and/or the people they call family impacted and shaped who and how we are today.

While listening to a recording of Rev’d Murray preaching at their first celebration of the Eucharist at Chapel of the Cross corps members took time to create a piece of art – an image, a mosaic, or an icon of sorts that they need in this moment to help point them towards God and what God is calling them to do in their own life and place in this moment.

The pilgrimage then closed with prayer and a photo tour at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, NC. As members moved throughout the pilgrimage, several word clouds captured thoughts that lingered from their travels and conversations with Dr. Murray, the folks from the Pauli Murray Center, and each other.

Many words jumped out: resilience, legacy, love of place, preservation, story, hand off, hopeful, faith, courage…and one phrase in particular continues to compel us: another world is possible.