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Season of Prayer, Day 5: Onleilove Alston

Slave Castles & Master's Chapels: The Prophetic Call to Sanctuary
Video reflection by Onleilove Alston, Faith in New York

In November, two days after the election, I went on a life-changing trip to Ghana, West Africa with one of Faith In New York’s clergy leaders, Reverend Yolanda Brown. While on this trip we visited the Elmina and Cape Coast slave castles. Slave castles were the last place captured Africans were held before being shipped across the ocean as cargo in the transatlantic slave trade.

The ancestors of most African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, and Afro-Caribbeans were held in these dark, crowded, unsanitary dungeons for weeks and even months only to be taken through the Door of No Return and packed into the bottom of dark, crowded, unsanitary ships for months until they reached their final destination of eternal servitude, never to see Africa again.

What was most shocking about the slave castles was that one had a church that held worship services right over the slave dungeon. My tour guide told us the church was heaven above and the slave dungeon was hell below, and everybody knows you can never leave hell to come up to heaven.

As I stood in the chapel I was reminded of one question Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews asked our clergy during a Theology of Resistance training: Are you Chaplains of the Empire or Prophets of the Resistance?

Obviously those literally worshipping over the slave dungeons were chaplains to the empire, and yet today as immigrants, Muslims, and descendants of enslaved Africans who now face the threat of hate enacted through politics, I must ask: will you worship over the place of my injustice? Will your congregation be a sanctuary for those who are now being targeted by hate, or will you sing worship songs over the bodies of those in the dungeons of racism, sexism, and islamophobia?

My faith tradition says in Psalm 31:20, “You hide them in the secret place of your presence, from the conspiracies of Man. you keep them secretly in the shelter from the strife of tongues.” This is the sanctuary we need today.

I truly believe that the practice of prayer helped my people not only to endure the dungeons, Middle Passage, and slavery, but prayer helped us to rise up and lead one of the most powerful faith-rooted resistance movements this world has ever seen.

The enslaved Africans who prayed in the hush harbors knew what it was to create sanctuary when no one would give it to you. They knew what it meant to be hid in the secret place of the Most High God through prayer.

Today will you join us in praying for the prophetic courage to provide sanctuary for those facing injustices, and will you also pray for the holy discomfort that will not allow you to worship over the places of injustice in our communities?

In this way we will be what Hebrews 8:2 calls a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which God built, not Man. Ashe, Amen, Shalom.