Originally published April 23, 2021

Dear Fellow Missionaries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota:

Last Tuesday afternoon, The Rev. Canon Dr. Lauren Stanley and I traveled together to meet with the leaders of the Pine Ridge Mission and St. Katherine’s, Martin, about beginning the search process for their next priest. As we drove from Mission to Batesland, we tuned the radio to a national news source to await the verdict of Derek Chauvin, who was on trial for the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. Along with the rest of the country, we heard the judge read the verdicts: guilty on all three counts.

My first reaction was that of amazement since part of me fully expected a hung jury. That all of the jurors, who were more diverse than Minnesota, would all agree on all three verdicts was nothing short of a surprise. My second reaction was of relief for the family of George Floyd and his friends. All too often, and throughout history, persons of color are denied the justice they seek, hope, and pray for. My third feeling was one of thanksgiving for the business owners and communities in Minneapolis and across our nation who were fearing and preparing for the worst – because they were expecting the worst – because they were not anticipating justice to be served.

However, amid all these feelings and emotions, and as I shared with Mother Lauren – I was taken back to the statement that I publicized on May 29th after George Floyd’s murder occurred. In that statement, I wrote that “when violent acts of racism are perpetrated in our state against Native Americans, there is no continual nationwide coverage or statewide publicity. Silence, denial, or apathy is too often the response.” Sadly, it still is.

At our meeting in Batesland, Fr. Harold Eagle Bull spoke eloquently and passionately about the sin of racism in our state and how it continues to affect the lives of those he loves and faithfully serves. During our weekly clergy Zoom call, Fr. Richard Zephier shared how concerns and reports about active racism are affecting the possibility of having the Niobrara Convocation in North Dakota. The sin is alive and well in our midst. And it must be addressed.

To this end, and under our Star Quilt Vision for Transformation, a Diocesan Task Force will be formed to address the sin of racism in our Diocese. We will be looking for representation from each of our deaneries whose task will be to listen to the Holy Spirit, learn, teach, and lead us into action. I have no desire to entertain discussion on beautifully worded resolutions that decry racism and yet are devoid of any direction or concrete steps. To quote the mandate from the prophet Micah, this is what the Lord requires of us: Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (6:8). The time to act, love, and walk is upon us. And the time to begin living into this mandate is now.


The Rt. Rev. Dr. Jonathan H. Folts

Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota