St. Stephen’s testimony

The week leading up to a remembrance
of St. Stephen’s testimony

Ken Sehested

Invocation. “The Prayer,” Giulia Zarantonello, performed by Montserrrat Caballé

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There’s a lot going on this week of 2023, much of it having to do with the kind of memory needed to sustain the future.

7 May: The Feast of St. Stephen on the Roman Catholic list of saints is not until 26 December. But those following the Revised Common Lectionary, his story—traditionally venerated as the first Christian martyr—in Acts 7 rolls around this coming Sunday.

A brief meditation on the Feast of St. Stephen

Historic moments of grand-scale movements cannot be engineered. Our work is to be readied, rehearsed, abled, and allied for the season when gestating Darkness erupts in travailing labor to birth the Promise of the ages.

Remain faithful to the liturgy beckoning the Age to come: When the night’s dark fear melts from having loved so greatly the stars’ kindly light and clarifying direction.

Pray for us, St. Stephen, when Truth’s claim conflicts with law’s domain. —Ken Sehested

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6 May: The hair on the neck of every Free Churcher will stand up this Saturday, on the occasion of the coronation of newly-ascended British King Charles III.

During the service, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby will invite not just the royal guests gathered in London’s Westminster Cathedral but “All persons of goodwill in The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the other Realms and the Territories to make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted King, defender of all” by saying aloud this oath:

“I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

This is the first time in history that all citizens are including in this pledge. Previously only British royalty were asked to do so.

And, wouldn’t you know it, bankers get an extra holiday on Monday the 8th.

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4 May: The annual “National Day of Prayer” in the US, when citizens are urged “to turn to God in prayer and meditation.” Several of our presidents have made such declarations. Earlier, though, such official declarations were titled “National Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer.”

By act of Congress and President Truman’s signature in 1952, all reference to penitence was removed. As Truman said, “Our global victory [in World War II] . . . has come with the help of God. . . . Let us . . . dedicate ourselves to follow in His Ways.”

Soon after, in 1954, continuing a show of public piety and opposition to those commie atheists, Congress approved a revised “pledge of allegiance” to include “under God.” And then, in ’55, mandated that all US currency contain the wording “In God We Trust.”

In his 2003 National Day of Prayer proclamation, President George W. Bush focused on divine guidance in the “fight against terrorism” and urged citizens to “ask the Almighty to protect all those who battle for freedom throughout the world and our brave men and women in uniform. . . .”

Evidently, God’s honor, and the nation’s prowess, was at stake. By now, national penitence is a thing of the past. In its stead, “May God bless America” became the repeated benediction of political leaders and the centerpiece of National Day of Prayer piety.

A few years ago, while in an especially curmudgeonly mood during our trumphian captivity, I penned the following brief meditation:

On this national Day of Self-Inflated Prayer,
when legal sanction is extended to
flatulent religious posturing, proudly
claim your allegiance to the early
Christian movement charged with
atheism by Roman imperial authority
for their refusal to genuflect in the
ace of mercenary gods.
This is not the time for decorous
objection. This is a time for holy rage.

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2 May: The “Children’s March” began in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963. You remember the black and white TV footage of police dogs and water cannons being loosed on more than 1,000 school children. These scenes galvanized the nation and prompted President Kennedy—then, after his assassination, President Johnson— to press for and secure, the Civil Right Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (For more see “Black Children Begin Movement Protesting Segregation; Face Police Brutality,” Equal Justice Initiative)

ALSO: The US Marines again occupy Nicaragua in 1925, having left only nine months before after a stay since 1912. This time they stayed until 1933.

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1 May: “The Catholic Worker Movement traces its beginnings to May 1, 1933, when Dorothy Day and three others distributed an eight-page tabloid newspaper in the midst of a crowded, festive Union Square in New York City.” —“History of the Catholic Worker Movement

ALSO: In what is called the 1886 “Haymarket Affair” (or “riot” or “massacre”) in Chicago—a demonstration that drew a large crow of the working class demanding an eight-hour workday (down from an average of 60 per week). Both Illinois and federal law mandated this limit but few enforced it. The cause of the Haymarket incident was the police killing the day before of several striking workers at another industry.

Just as Methodist pastor and labor activist Rev. Samuel Fieldman finished speaking, an unknown person threw a pipe bomb in the direction of assembled police called in to disburse the demonstration. Gunfire broke out after the explosion. By the end of the melee, seven police officers and four demonstrators lay dead, with an untold number of wounded.

In the ensuing trial, eight demonstrators were convicted, seven of whom received the death penalty. In 1893 the Illinois governor pardoned the three still living and condemned the trial’s outcome.


  • Late in his life the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass commented, “experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.”
  • “The federal minimum wage in the US would be more than $42 an hour today if it rose at the same rate as the average Wall Street bonus over the past four decades.” Common Dreams
  • Oh, about the child labor laws which unions helped get passed, 10 states have recently approved or are considering legislation to allow younger workers.

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” —Voltaire

Benediction. “We reached these shores from many lands / We came with hungry hearts and hands / Some came by force and some by will / At the auction block, in the darkened mill/ Arise! Arise! / I see the future in your eyes. / To a more perfect union we aspire / And lift our voices from the fire.” —Jean Rohe, “National Anthem: Arise! Arise!” (Scroll down to see the full lyrics.)