A Q&A with Dr. Gabrie’l Atchison, UBE Chapter President

How did you first get involved with the Bishop James Theodore Holly Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians?

I was working in the partnership office, and we were putting together the resolutions for diocesan convention and I heard that Wayne Blassingame [former chapter president] and the group had wanted to come up with a resolution, and so I just sort of put myself into the process because I really wanted to be able to help with that. They wanted to increase visibility for the group and they wanted a seat at the table, to come to convention as UBE – those were the two main issues. And so I got involved in that way, and then I started to come to meetings. [Editor’s note: That resolution, The Visibility of the Union of Black Episcopalians, was passed unanimously by both diocesan conventions in 2020.]

How did you come to take on this leadership role as president?

Wayne, who had been the [UBE] president for a very long time, asked me to be the president, and how he hooked me was because long ago I was working as an adjunct at Buffalo State, and there’s this idea about connecting with young adults on a college campus. And I thought, “maybe I can get back onto the campus as this, as UBE.” So I thought it was a little crazy, but I said yes because I thought I could do some of these things I wanted to do and also help them keep the spirit alive.

What’s going on with UBE these days?

We are now trying to have one event per month, and are looping in as many different church communities or non-profits as we can. Each time I do something, I try to do it as a collaboration with other groups. The biggest thing we’ve done is the “Challenging Conversations” in April.

Challenging Conversations created a space for white people of faith who are fighting for racial and economic justice and included a keynote address by Cláudio Carvalhaes of Union Theological Seminary and a panel discussion with leaders from the Episcopal Church and other ecumenical partners. The program was co-sponsored by the New York State Council of Churches, Western New York Peace Center, Interfaith Peace Network, Anti-Racism Team of St. Joseph’s University, Justice Ministry Team, UU Church of Buffalo, and the Buffalo Quaker Meeting.

What’s next?

One woman [in UBE], Josie Robbins, is a parishioner at St Philip’s in her 90s. I thought, “I need to get her story.” And it made me think all of our churches probably have someone in their 90s who has a story we could exchange. So storytelling or story sharing is going to be a big part of where we go next. That’s what I’m really excited about.

I’m also still interested in going onto campuses. Everywhere I go I ask people if they have connections so we can get onto the SUNY campuses with our ministry.

How can people get involved and support UBE’s ministry?

A congregation can join UBE, and that’s saying “we support what you do both financially and spiritually.” To me, that’s what that means.

As an individual joining, you’re rolling up your sleeves—you’re joining in to do the work, to do service projects, and to help come up with ideas of things to do. According to the by-laws you don’t have to come to meetings, but what I’m trying to do is make it so you’ll want to come to meetings, to make it exciting, you get to meet people you might not have gotten to meet. I know some churches have their own social justice ministries forming, but if your church doesn’t have that, we could be a way to get involved. It could be a good match.

Find out more about the Bishop Holly Chapter of UBE on the website and Facebook page.