The first Black woman to lead a New England Episcopal diocese on leading during the coronavirus

Heading a diocese during the pandemic is certainly a new experience for Rt. Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown. But this challenge isn’t stopping her from addressing issues of race.

MacVean-Brown, the first Black woman to lead a New England Episcopal diocese, said people started to recognize the disparate impact of COVID-19. This is true: While white Vermonters make up a majority of positive cases, the highest rate exists among Black Vermonters

Only 4% of the Episcopal Church’s members identify as Black, according to data from the Pew Research Center

More:Why one woman’s move to Vermont is milestone for Episcopal Church

Rt. Rev. Shannon MacVean-Brown, the first African-American Bishop of Vermont, stands in front of her predecessors. MacVean-Brown was ordained and consecrated in late September. Oct. 3, 2019.

“It’s still remarkable that I was called here,” MacVean-Brown said. “There’s very few Black Episcopalians, or Episcopalians of any color, in Vermont.” 

The bishop, consecrated in September, breaks from the tradition of her all-white predecessors. People around her seem to be more concerned about issues of race because of what they’re seeing in the news, as well as their connection to the bishop. She admitted it can be awkward receiving individual attention as people ask how she’s doing and offer condolences.

“It’s encouraging, though, because I know that they really are committed to making this a better world,” she said. 

MacVean-Brown wrote a June 2 statement regarding widespread deaths due to COVID-19 and the killings of Black Americans, like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, by police. She wrote that these circumstances brought the country “to a place where we can no longer deny the brokenness of a society that is built on the subjugation and oppression of many while a few control most of the economic wealth.” 

The message mirrors rhetoric in the Episcopal Church’s message of racial reconciliation, a practice that includes working to heal injustice and brokenness. MacVean-Brown said that it’s not an option to avoid conversations, including those around race, in order to minimize conflict.

More:Black Vermonters share stories about life in the Green Mountain State

Contact Maleeha Syed at mzsyed@freepressmedia.com or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89

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