More than 90 years after a Methodist clergyman killed a Catholic priest in Birmingham, members of both churches gathered to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
“There is no statute of limitations on forgiveness,” said Passionist Father Alex Steinmiller, president of Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School in Birmingham, during a service at Highlands United Methodist Church.
The service focused on the Aug. 11, 1921, murder of Father James Edwin Coyle by the Rev. Edwin R. Stephenson, who was angry with the priest for presiding over his daughter marrying a Puerto Rican man.
Bishop William H. Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church reminded the congregation in his sermon at the Ash Wednesday service of Christ’s words as he hung on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Bishop Willimon called it “a national scandal” that Rev. Stephenson was acquitted of the murder by a jury that included members of the Ku Klux Klan, who were influenced by both racist and anti-Catholic attitudes. The presiding judge, who denied an eyewitness to the murder an opportunity to testify, also was a Klansman.
“It was a sad day in our history – our judicial history and interreligious history,” the bishop said.
The Rev. Mikah Hudson, senior pastor of Highlands United Methodist Church, led the congregation in a prayer of confession and reconciliation.
“This night we ask forgiveness for the indifference of our beloved Methodist Church to the unjust death of Father James Coyle, a servant of God among us, whose ministry was tragically ended,” he said. “Heal us, we pray, of dissension and hatred for brothers and sisters of other faiths. Reconcile us to those who we have wronged or who have wronged us. Embolden us to witness to the love of Jesus Christ by loving others as he loved us. Amen.”
And you can find out more about Fr. Coyle at this website.