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Extinction: [ik-stingk-shuh n] noun. Occurs when the surrounding conditions change more rapidly than a species can adapt to the changes.

This week the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National mall in Washington, DC. It speaks of pride and the way in which the African-American community is absolutely integral to understanding the American identity. It has a striking silhouette — a triple inverted pyramid form, the shape mimics that of the crowns found in sacred commemorative spaces and African art. There’s this striking bronze lattice work on the outside and as sun shines through it and settles on the museum floor, it changes throughout the day. It evokes the feeling of hot summer under a giant tree with “sunlight dappling through.” On another level, there’s a window that perfectly frames the neighboring Washington monument. The way the museum is intended to be experienced is to start at the bottom, some 70 feet underground, in the history galleries and travel upward, literally rising through decades of history.

The architect, David Adjaye, a British-Ghanaian, says that ideally, architecture is not about the building itself, it’s what it enables, it’s what it says. It’s not about explaining things, he says “the building really should talk to you.”NPR story

Which got me thinking about what does our building say?

Perhaps you’ve been asked by those outside the church about all the scaffolding this summer? As the new windows went in and the siding went up, I kept getting asked, “what are you doing over there?” As if we might be getting the building ready to sell it or something.

If our walls talks, I hope they say, This is a place committed to building today for tomorrow…. I hope people don’t hear these improvements saying we’re taking care of only ourselves – building a nice bunker for members as the world goes mad. I hope our new siding says, “We plan to be a vital part of this community for the foreseeable future.” “Come fly with us. We offer our good stewardship of this building as a space for the community’s needs.”

Our building has hosted Al-Anon and Recovery meetings, it’s had a Lyme-disease support group, a friends of Native American flute circle, a preschool, a counselor, and a wide variety of non-profit fund raisers. It provides parking space for church festivals (other church’s events), hosted a farmer’s market, and been the site of various concerts, training courses and district events.

For some SBNRs (spiritual-but-not-religious), I wonder if this investment in the physical space, of what is often seen as a dying institution, talks about our willingness to throw our money away. When every article about the institution of the church talks about its decline and impending extinction, might our investment say we’re counting our ability to adapt and adapt quickly.

I hope that 13-ft giant, colorful cross and flame, that denominational symbol of United Methodism doesn’t say, we’re locked into our own denominational identity, separate from all the other denominations and proud of it. I would love it if folks driving by saw the UM logo and thought, “there are those Christians who are willing to burn brightly and be a enthusiastic force for good. There are those people who are so skilled at disaster relief. There are those people who work in partnership with other denominations and faiths to respond to suffering.” I would love it if United Methodists who drove by saw those dual flames rising from a single source and were reminded of our history–when separate factions united even though we didn’t agree on everything we were willing to join forces… a time when unity didn’t mean uniformity. But I know better.
In our increasingly secular society, research shows that most non-churched people think of church as judgmental, irrelevant, hypocritical and even hateful. If the only thing you know about United Methodism is what’s in the national news every four years when General Conference tries to keep gays out of leadership and full participation in the church, then you might just wonder why a congregation would so boldly proclaim on the front of its building “we, here, are Methodists.” For me, it’s crucial that the cross and flame are right beside a sign even closer to the street with a rainbow saying we’re committed to a wide welcome for everybody, especially those LGBTQI folks the global church is persecuting. It speaks of our commitment to make the denomination live into what it says about itself: open hearts, open minds, open doors.

I hope when people come here, they hear the space speak of our commitment to being green, our efforts to recycle and support fair trade farmers, with programs to feed and rehabilitate and house those who are homeless, or returning from prison, or in need of affordable housing. I hope they hear the elevator say we care about accessibility for all, or hear the joyous noise of so many kids speak of our commitment to provide a safe space for children.

I wonder what visitors hear this sanctuary say when they enter. Maybe as they come down the hallway and pass through the smaller opening into this space of high ceilings with light seeping in front this tall bank of windows and they have a sense of grandeur and awe.

Someone said they were sad to see our outdoor summer services end where we sat in a circle under the shade of enormous tree. The smaller numbers in attendance and different configuration of worship space offered us the opportunity for so many stories to be shared–the movement of the spirit in the group was so obvious each Sunday that I began to see the summer as a blessing and not just a shameful failure in attendance. Someone else remarked on how much better we sounded as a congregation singing close to one another, sitting facing one another. I long for the day when our sanctuary space is flexible enough without pews that won’t move, to allow us to adapt to the rhythms of the season.

To be seated facing one another would speak much more of an ancient posture, familiar to those early followers, training themselves to see the spirit of Christ in each others’ faces. Our current arrangement, with the pulpit higher and set apart, speaks of a much later time when the church wanted to raise up the role of preaching and clergy as the only experts on the divine (the clergy robe and stole complete the effect).

Of course, nowadays, that notion of clergy as the only divine spokesperson is almost extinct. Today there’s an understanding that knowledge and authority and divine experience are the shared function of the people more than the exclusive possession of one person. And so now you see high pulpits go unused, sanctuaries being remodeled, clergy who walk about or who use transparent lecterns (like the new one at Wesley Springfield) –those speak much more to the fragile nature of the word preached. The physical arrangement of things can remind us of what has always been true, that it is the community of faith gathered, on a particular Sunday, and the greater community over time, who has the authority to interpret the word for the themselves.

So I wonder, what does this sanctuary say to visitors about who we are?

The new siding and windows is the first project of the Growing Today for Tomorrow campaign – several more changes are coming as we try to adapt and upgrade our surroundings to serve our current environment. But I hope you will remember as we invest funds in this building, we are also pushing money and ministry out of this space. We just sent the tithe of the money we’ve received so far (15K) to New Hope Regional ministries.

And some of important ministries we do, do not actually happen in our building:
The Justice for our Neighbors legal help for immigrants clinic, mission trips, building a Habitat for Humanity house, helping to re-settle a refugee family, the Pioneer Valley Free Health Services (this one actually began in our building but has long since outgrown us). All of these happen beyond our walls. We come together here to form ourselves as the body of Christ to go out to “raise the level of hope for those who cry out for love and justice.” (From the ELUMC mission statement)

When the surrounding conditions change more rapidly than a species can adapt, it’s cause for extinction. May we be willing to adapt. May we continue to listen to what the spirit says through our building as we grow today for tomorrow.

When a colleague does such a good job of reflecting on the events and process of Annual Conference, why re-invent the wheel, just re-post and go on vacation. See you in July. Thanks Becca for your fine work here and at General Conference

From Becca Girrell’s blog:

The New England Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church experienced a watershed moment this week– so many watershed moments that it’s clear this is not a moment, but a movement. I speak not only of the passage of an Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of our denomination, but of the whole way of doing Conference. Our agenda took significant hits, with some important presentations and actions cut and some significantly restricted and rushed, but this was because we took time to listen to one another, to tell stories and hold pain.

Most of the time at Conference was spent in out-of-order witnessing and truth-telling, circle process conversations about our identity as Methodists (and for some of us, about ways forward we could imagine for the church), discussion as a Committee of the Whole* without the pressure of a binding vote, and many instances before session was called to order, in clergy session, and in the full session, where people stood at the microphone surrounded by allies and voiced pain and hope and called the church to greater justice.

It’s beautiful and powerful, and I feel like I’m part of a real Conference body again, one that puts relationships over power, and process over outcome. But how did we get here?

Like so many watershed moments, this moment arises out of deep pain. The devastation that progressive Methodists felt and feel in the wake of General Conference cannot be ignored. Some held out, waiting to see if this GC would be different (and it was; it was worse). Some have slender hope in the Bishops’ Commission bringing a proposal that will structurally allow flexibility (in a minimum of two years). But for most, May 21 found us with aching hearts and spirits, wondering if there was a place, with integrity, for us in a denomination where delegates advocated for abusing children for the disobedience of being gay, used false information from the podium to withdraw from protecting women’s access to comprehensive health care, committed to making sure the denomination followed the Bible alone (a profound rejection of Wesleyan lenses of tradition, reason, and experience mediating the scripture), and proposed that the church endorse curriculum that only teaches creationism.

But that pain and confusion paled in comparison to the agony for queer and/or Latina/o/x Methodists the morning of June 12. And like many religious bodies, The UMC was forced to admit that there is a connection, a direct correlation, between institutions like ours that dehumanize queer people and people of color, that call homosexuality “incompatible” with Christian teaching, that have legacies of segregation and oppression of people of color… and the festering hatred that would motivate the shooter in the Pulse nightclub. With the blood of fifty people (that we know about, because there are so many more) on our hands as the Conference session began, we could not even repent, because we had not begun to stop the harm we ourselves create.

So we interrupted it. And that broke something open. And it can’t be the same anymore.

Once broken open, relationships, listening, love took over, and like toothpaste from the proverbial tube, couldn’t be put back away. Not only was the harm to LGBTQIA persons named, and the Conference asked to hold that pain and take action to stop that harm, but likewise the harm to people of color, to specific groups and caucuses and bodies like the Asian Commission, to women, to people based on age, to folks in the theological minority, to individuals. It was a sacred gathering, and a prophetic one.

On the specifically pro-inclusion actions of the Annual Conference: 

For almost two full hours Thursday morning, before the session could be called to order, LGBTQ Methodists and allies held the floor and poured out grief and agony and anger, and listened to one another, and came out fearfully and yet to thundering applause, and wept, and demanded of one another action. Later that same day, a time for circle-process conversation, which had been previously planned, allowed space for a group to form outside the main hall and have another conversation. That group also followed the circle process, passing a cross as a talking stick, naming what we were feeling and listening to one another. And then we discussed what we could offer to the Conference. The whole body was crying out for action, but what action could we take? We discussed actions that would equate to schism, and decided not to propose those actions. Instead, offered an opportunity to share with the Bishop and Conference leadership our way forward, we focused on four points:

  1. non-conformity with the specific sections of The United Methodist Book of Discipline that discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
  2. refusal to hold or participate in church judicial procedures related to the above
  3. insisting that all clergy and employee couples/families receive the medical/retirement benefits for which they are eligible, regardless of the sexes or genders of the partners
  4. committing funds away from the discrimination named in 1 and 2 and into cultural competency training and advocacy to dismantle racism and homophobia

A small group met with the Bishop and named these four points, and came up with the process of using the Roberts Rules Easter Egg, “Committee of the Whole” to proceed. This particular process was proposed by my partner, Sean, and he shared some fascinating ways it had been used, including in the old New Hampshire Conference, to facilitate the discussion and eventual passage of a resolution for abolition. Meanwhile, another small group drafted language for the resolution itself, which I, ever the secretary to the revolution, wrote out in a shared document, and then other fast-acting folks arranged to have copied for the plenary.

The process allowed us to discuss the resulting resolution without the pressure of a binding vote on Thursday night, where it was overwhelmingly recommended back to the Annual Conference. Friday morning and into the afternoon it was debated and amended before its final passage.

What comes next is that this watershed moment has impact across The United Methodist connection. It’s not just those here in New England who will never be the same.

—With the caveat that I can’t remember everyone ad don’t want to offend, I’ll try to give shout out to the vast team that worked on these pieces (let me know if i left you out):
Thursday morning action: Lindsay F, Johnathan R-C, Steve D, and countless speakers like Allen, Sara, Justin, Cherlyn, Val…, with special props to Vicki W, Casey C, Rachael F, Sean D, and others for their truth-telling. Cynthia G, Kim K and others for the burlap stoles.
Circle process team: Dodie S and gasp i can’t remember facilitating, about 15-20 people participating.
Process planning with conference leadership: Will G, Sean D, Kevin N, Julie T, Vicki W.
Resolution writing team: me, Kathryn J, Kevin N, Stuart L.

* Asked on Facebook why we used the Committee of the Whole process, my friend Will Green explained it well:

We could have done this in session. We could have immediately suspended the rules and gone for it right away. I’ll share a few reasons I thought the approach we took was a good idea… Becoming a Committee of the Whole allowed us to 1) protect the Bishop from having to preside over our Conference discussing whether or not to follow the Discipline (instead he was presiding over debate on the recommendation of a committee) 2) have a discussion during which people could not amend the resolution, thus creating space for a cleaner conversation 3) have conversation prior to having a binding vote 4) take the closest thing to a straw poll that Robert’s Rules will allow 5) keep us from having to limit the number of speeches (which again could have been done with suspension of rules), 6) on a symbolic level, make a tribute to our forebears in the New Hampshire Annual Conference who used this same procedure to find a way to debate the abolition of slavery when a Bishop would not allow it (not that OUR Bishop was saying this, but there is precedent for past Bishops blocking us from acting on resolutions that they feel go against the Discipline)… That was my general thinking anyway, but there were many other ways we could have handled this.

 

We Your People, Ours the Journey

ashes Beloved friends and colleagues (Jamie Michaels and Cynthia Good) gift me with sackcloth and ashes in an act of repentance Thursday morning. Photo by Beth DiCoco, NEAC Communications

The New England Annual (regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church experienced a watershed moment this week– so many watershed moments that it’s clear this is not a moment, but a movement. I speak not only of the passage of an Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of our denomination, but of the whole way of doing Conference. Our agenda took significant hits, with some important presentations and actions cut and some significantly restricted and rushed, but this was because we took time to listen to one another, to tell stories and hold pain.

Most of the time at Conference was spent in out-of-order witnessing and truth-telling, circle process conversations about our identity as Methodists (and for some of us, about…

View original post 1,273 more words

Queer Voices @GC

It all started with a tweet

“Let’s play a game: how often can #UMCGC

sing songs and lift prayers written by queer folks,

while silencing us otherwise? #itstime #calledout”

We were singing and clapping and stomping

(because the rhythm of the song really requires it)

Mark Miller’s kicked up version of “O for a thousand tongues to sing”

in opening worship Tuesday morning when I wondered, out loud,

how many of the thousands of tongues singing were in queer heads?

My mathematical partner would answer 400

and then remind me that such calculations are “arithmetic”–

not quite rising to the level of mathematics.

 

What would the body of Christ be, I wondered,

without those LGBTQI tongues to sing?

I tried to imagine, adapting John Lennon’s lyrics:

“Imagine, there’s no gays in UMC,”

At least the self-avowed, practicing kind,

(cause the so-called “Good News” folks say they don’t object to the celibate kind)

But it wasn’t easy, even though I tried.

Wouldn’t the body be so diminished without those tongues

as to no longer be a body worthy of the body of Christ?

No longer worthy of praise?

Without the diversity of parts, once celebrated by Paul,

wouldn’t the body return to the dust from which we came?

IF we managed, through parliamentary procedure of course,

to cut out those LGBTQI tongues,

we might be left with a denomination in name, the UMC,

But it would not be the body of Christ.

That body would be elsewhere, enjoying the gifts of those

like Grace Cox-Johnson whose beautiful stoles enlivened opening worship,

or the colorful, out, trans, non-binary, youthful fabulousness of Aaron Pazan,

or the incredibly creative, detail work of a mind-reader,

worship team planner and floor manager like David Bone,

or the emotional lyrics and toccata rumblings of Mark Miller,

or the prayerful movement of a Randall Miller,

or the inspiring words of liturgical artists like Marcia McFee,

or the global musical sounds of Jorge Lockward,

or the ones whose full witness is shielded from view by our discrimination.

And that says nothing of all the other ways LGBTQI people are integral

to the denominational body,

like the powerful story I heard today of the woman, her orientation unknown to most,

who created a celebrated UMC ministry.

Then there’s the prophetic, poetic voices of the Indigo Girls,

Emily Saliers, a preacher’s kid, daughter of Don Saliers,

whose sung responses grace the UM Hymnal and

whose reading of psalms brings them to life.

And Amy Ray, in church 3x a week growing up,

who loved her clergy-magician-uncle using tricks

to illuminate Bible passages

(see these 3 ropes, poof, they’re really 1, a symbol of the Trinity).

Indigo songs sooth the souls of weary delegates,

volunteers and Bishops Friday night.

The concert became church, albeit in a UCC sanctuary,

with voices of belief, witness, prayer

and the struggle to hold the system accountable to the gospel good news.

Should the body UMC look in the mirror, reflected there are beautiful parts–

racial, ethnic, gender identity, sexual orientation–

not enough, but some, all integral gifts of the whole.

And what of allies, those cut out of the body by mandatory penalties,

or silenced in their welcome?

And young people (can I get an amen for the youth delegates report?)

If those queer voices, who form the body of Christ,

leave the church that uses their gifts while excluding their bodies,

I fear what would be left is not a body,

more of a shell of our former selves,

(and here I can imagine Voldermort’s twisted shadowy,

parasitic existence, before his return).

 

Because, if they go, the body goes with them.

And so I can imagine that I don’t do this work

of witnessing to the inclusion of the gospel,

of insisting the UMC live into its motto

of open hearts and minds and doors for “them”

but for myself–

because I want to imagine myself as part of the body of Christ.

 

Today, I joined the body singing, “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth.

I love you, I need you to survive.”

No need to strain to hear all those tongues to sing.

So I do commit to be part of the body of Christ,

wherever it goes.

Therefore, I go.

The Tabernacle, according to the Hebrew Bible, was the portable earthly dwelling place for the divine presence, from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan.

When the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) erected a tabernacle across the street from the 2012 General Conference in Florida, I experienced that divine presence amidst the disciples gathered there.

Each day meals were shared, noon-day speakers inspired, strategies were discussed, props were made, articles written (that was one of my jobs), and stories shared. We worked to welcome international delegates with familiar foods and languages we spoke poorly (but the attempt was graciously received). Every day was an opportunity to share our passion for Jesus and justice and find common ground.

The close proximity to the Conference Center made all the difference. Delegates had to pass by the Love Your Neighbor witness daily. They saw our prayers (written on strips of fabric tied to a fence) wave in the wind. They witnessed hundreds of volunteers dedicated to a church with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. They couldn’t help but see our commitment to love our neighbors.

The Coalition is once again planning a tabernacle raising in Portland at the 2016 General Conference. They need to raise another $40k by May 8. If you can help, please donate. And pray for us May 10 – 20 as we seek the divine presence in our global gathering.IMG_0741

The name of the True God will be my song,
    an uplifting tune of praise and thanksgiving! — Psalm 69:30 The Voice

Happy Thanksgiving! This Sunday as we begin Advent, we travel to the desert to hear the wisdom from the desert monastics who were the spiritual Olympians of their time. For more info on all the incredible opportunities for spiritual renewal this Advent, check out the December newsletter http://elumc.org/newsletters.htm online now http://elumc.org/docs/newsletter2015-12.pdf . It includes information on Giving Tuesday (Dec 1) where your online mission dollars will be doubled. Giving Tuesday is an effort to focus on charitable giving following Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. OF course, what’s left out of that clever naming is Holy Sunday (don’t miss this time-sensitive opportunity to begin this holy season).

Research shows that being grateful helps your brain, improves mood, relieves stress (http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/why-an-attitude-of-gratitude-helps-your-health/ ). In my visiting this week, I’ve been moved by the gratitude of those in hospitals and rehab centers on this holiday. Please continue to pray for those places and people on our prayer list

Moving to Ireland

by guest columnist Eileen Brogan.

On February 1st 2016, I will be starting a new chapter of my life. Some see this as “my retirement years,” others as “my great adventure,” but I see it as “going home.” Since 1997, I have made ten trips to Ireland, some enchanting, some exhausting, some exciting, but in each case, I did not want to return to the States (I cannot even bring myself to say “go home.”) I believe that since that first day I stepped on Irish soil, I was meant to be there, not just to visit, but to live.
When folks ask me why I always go back to Ireland on my vacation, I ask why others always go to Florida, or the Cape or on a cruise? Some of us go where we find comfort and relaxation. For me, it is so much more than simply a vacation; my trips to Ireland renew my soul. And so it is fitting that I will be stepping upon that Irish soil as I “go home” on St Bridget’s Day. My grandmother, Bridget, was born in County Kerry where I will be living for at least my first year in Ireland.

Bridget Carey left a small townland (a settlement of seven families) named Maulnahone in 1900 with her brother John. She was16 and he was 18. They followed in the footsteps of their four older sisters who made the journey in 1888 and 1898. Bridget and John were soon followed by Thomas in 1901, the last of the Carey children. They all settled in the Hartford CT area where their sponsor and wealthy aunt resided.
Bridget worked as a housemaid until she married Martin Fitzgerald in1907. They had four children, including my mother Mary Fidelis. My grandfather, also from County Kerry, was a Hartford Police officer. He died April 15, 1944. My grandmother, known as Granny to all who knew her, remained a widow until her death in 1980 at the age of 97.

Granny and I had a complicated relationship. When I was four years old, Granny came to live with my family, which then included my parents, my two older brothers and me. We lived in a small post-WWII tract house ~ 3 bedrooms and 1 bath. Being the only girl, my parents had Granny move into my bedroom with me. I am sure it made perfect sense at the time and perhaps if I had not grown up or if things had been different, it would have remained ideal. But, I did grow up and I grew up during the turbulent 60’s.

Granny was a very stoic, quiet woman who thrived on her faith, the newspaper and the Lawrence Welk show. She was 74 when she moved in with my four-year old self. We shared a bedroom, but we did not share a life. Granny never revealed any of herself to me. I never learned about her childhood in Ireland. She never spoke of Ireland and she never returned. As a matter of fact, she never really talked about anything with me. She never held me or kissed me or showed me any affection. Oh, there were the occasional holy water showers when I was ill and she thought I was asleep. But most of the time, it was as if we lived in the same room, but in parallel universes.

And so, our relationship was complicated. She was not nurturing and so I did not approach her as one might a typical grandmother, like in the movies. She was not the type to sit and chat with a child, and so we did not chat. As we both grew older, the differences between us outweighed any familial kinship. When I became a teenager, she was 83 years old. When I graduated from high school, she was 88. I learned to resent her presence in what I felt was my room. There was no space in my life for rocking chairs and bed pans, but here I was, living in this setting, a setting unbecoming a blossoming young woman.

Sadly, there was no happy ending. I finally got my own room after my brothers moved out, but the damage was done. This was not like the movies. There was no room for a relationship at that point, or I did not even consider it. Eventually, I moved out and life continued. Granny lived with my folks until she was 95 at which time she moved to St Mary’s Home and remained there until her death.

I recently returned to St Mary’s for the first time as I followed a genealogical trail that led me to the cemetery on the grounds. There I discovered the grave of one of Granny’s sisters. Sr Mary Fidelis, her older sister born Joanna, died in 1955 and was buried just below the windows where my Granny died. She never even mentioned that her sister was interred there. How can someone be so closed up and yet remain pleasant and appear content until the day she died? And yet, she always seemed content. Perhaps it was her unquestioning faith, which I used to wonder about and then envied.

As you all know, I am nothing like my stoic, quiet Granny, which may have been fodder for our strained relationship. It has taken me over 50 years to come to terms with my feelings for her. I now realize it was not just one thing that was wrong. It was a myriad of things that evolved over time as we both grew older. When Granny moved in, I lost what Virginia Woolf referred to as a “room of one’s own.” In deference to Ms Woolf and A Room of One’s Own, I did not need “five hundred a year,” but I was born an old soul who thrives on solitude and, in retrospect, I did need a room of my own. When Granny arrived, my toys were moved to other spaces in the house. My dresser became our dresser. My closet became her closet. I did not know until I was much older how much a “room of one’s own” meant to me. Perhaps it helps explain my choice to live alone all my life.

To everything there is a season ~ a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late
And so, here we are in 2015 and I find myself drawn to the home of Granny’s birth. I have been to Maulnahone too many times to recall. I often stand there by the ruins of her family home and try to understand a woman I shared a small 9 x 12 room with for nearly 16 years; a woman who died over 35 years ago. There is sometimes a sadness during those moments, but there is also a strength I feel emanating from my surroundings. All of the history of the poverty and sorrow that led Granny and all of her siblings to travel to a new life, to a new world seems to empower me. To help me better understand the tall, stoic Irishwoman, who spoke only when necessary, her feelings and emotions firmly locked inside. I shared a room with Granny for nearly 16 years and yet I barely knew her.

Fifty seven years after she arrived in the US, Bridget Carey Fitzgerald moved into my room. Fifty-nine years later, I am “going home” or, will I be moving into her room, onto the land of her birth? As I continue to come to terms with my relationship with Granny, I now feel it is our faith and Irish blood that binds us together. Perhaps in Ireland, I will find peace with this woman I never knew.
Granny, I hardly knew ya….

_DAE2689On my way to our annual joint worship service with the Episcopal Church in town, I stopped by my local coffee shop, as I do every Sunday morning, for some caffeine and conversation with a group of locals who can be found hanging out there most mornings. When I told them of my excitement about our ecumenical service going “inter-faith” this year since a rabbi from the Reform tradition was preaching, one of them went off on a tirade against Muslims– there’s just no other way to describe it. He “went off” spouting such fear and misinformation that it shook me to my core to hear such hate. I want to believe it was also incredibly disturbing and uncomfortable for others in the circle, at least one of whom tried, in vain, to change the subject.

I have been troubled this week by his diatribe and what more I could’ve said beyond my disagreeing with him and stating my value of followers of Islam. And then I was asked by the press to reflect and comment on the joint service. How could our little moment of interfaith worship in a small town be newsworthy? And I realized just how important our actions are in overcoming the kind of irrational fear of others with whom we have little or no contact. Building relationships among those of other denominations and faiths is critical because it impacts how we see the world and how we interact with others. So here’s what I told the reporter:

Rabbi Shapiro preached on paying attention to the unremarkable moments of life as the way of holiness. Trivial moments may be small instances, he said, but they are hugely significant in terms of how we conduct our lives. Even in the Talmud, two rabbis discuss how to lace up one’s shoes to make the point that everything was important, therefore nothing was trivial.

Well, in a world filled with turmoil and injustice, an ecumenical service in a small town in Western Massachusetts at which three congregations came together in worship with a rabbi preaching may seem like a small moment on a summer Sunday, but it has consequences for how we interact with others of various denominations and faiths. It is significant for how we conduct ourselves at a time when there is so much religious hatred and fear of difference.

As clergy in the community, we have worked together over the years in addressing gun violence, opposing casino gambling, resisting racism and discrimination, but this annual joint service has become a lovely, small moment for our congregations to come together in solidarity to show that while our differences matter, so does our unity.

The service ended with a litany of unity: with an acknowledgement that acts of racism have once again breached the walls of God’s church, with a cry for peace and justice, with a commitment to “lay down our own privileges” and “act together in solidarity.” And then we collected money for the Rebuild the Churches Fund to assist those predominantly Black churches recently destroyed by arson.

Because there is nothing trivial about fear and hate.