Shining our light

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As we were preparing for the vigil on Sunday evening, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Senior Minister at Plymouth UCC quipped, “I wish the news would stop giving us so many things to preach about.”

It was the 8th Night of Hanukkah, the third Sunday of Advent, a week before the Winter Solstice – all of these seasons of darkness longing for light.  We all agreed, there has been too much heartbreak, fear, violence and division – all requiring the response of the best of our religious traditions.   When the call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. started to circulate early last week – from a popular presidential candidate, no less – we knew we needed to step up and speak out as people of faith – do something, bear witness to another truth, another story of America, of humanity, of life.

As we gathered on Sunday, we remembered that the next day would be the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The children lost there are never far from my thoughts, and maybe even more, the children who survived, and the families left behind.  What story do they have of the world? How do they make sense of humanity, of life? How do they reclaim joy or goodness in a world where such a thing can happen? 

I can get lost in these questions and become overwhelmed by the grief, but then, something like the Vigil on Sunday night happens, and I remember hope.  I remember, like the song we ended the final Sunday of Candidating Week singing encourages – tenderness, kindness, friends – and that it’s only love that never ends.  I remember those words from Mr. Rogers to “look for the helpers,” and I remember the words attributed to Universalist John Murray, “You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of women and men.  Give them not hell, but hope and courage; preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The paper reported over 200 were gathered, but I would guess more like 300-400 – and I would guess about 80 of those were from our congregation.  It was a cold night, and our plans weren’t totally clear, even to those of us doing the organizing (my summary of the first few moments of the event: the Muslims were inviting everyone inside, the Christians said we were gathering outside, the UUs were saying both ways were good, and the Jews just launched into “This Little Light of Mine.” Welcome to the real work of interfaith dialogue!), the parking was non-existent, and there weren’t enough candles for our candlelight vigil.

And yet still, the people gathered.  The people gathered to remind us all of another story of life, the story of human goodness and compassion and connection – a story of love over fear.  In turn the Islamic Center opened their space with warmth and hospitality to all who wanted to pray, offered hot drinks and treats, and took up an offering for the victims of the Shooting at San Bernardino.

Our own Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb led the crowd in singing the Meditation on Breathing – the song UU Sarah Dan Jones wrote in response to 9/11.  Rabbis Shoshana Leis, Ben Newman and Hillel Katzir, Rev. Chorpenning, and Howell and I each offered prayers, and we closed the service by singing the song from Emma’s Revolution, “Peace Salaam Shalom.”  Later, I learned that the kids and youth were watching it all from the second floor, inside the Islamic Center – can you imagine their view as they looked out on all their neighbors coming to witness their love in the face of bigotry?  It was powerful, and holy.

Times like these ask us to get really clear about what story we are going to live out of, what story we will bear witness to, and what claims we are willing to stand out in the cold for – and then to actually step out and live out of this story and these claims – this faith.

I am so honored, and proud, and grateful, to serve with and among you, this congregation, and to live out our Unitarian Universalist bold claims of liberty and justice for all in this community – to shine our lights in the darkness together.  (When we talk about our “mission” as a congregation, this is exactly the sort of thing that we mean to be talking about – why do we exist, what does our community need from us, what does our faith ask of us?)  Sometimes I know it feels like it could never be enough, but as we each do our part, keep showing up – we make sure that the darkness will not overcome this light, this resilient story of love.

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The Ones Who Show Up

BlackLivesMatter“Imagine if….We are a visionary church, leading our greater community and forming interfaith partnerships in our unquenchable thirst for social, economic, and environmental justice.”
 
Last Wednesday evening, I caught a glimpse of this courageous dream written by our provocative proposals team becoming reality.  It was late in the prayer meeting held by the Abysinnian Christian Church.  By then, we had all shed tears, sat in silence, shaken our heads and sung out loud, all to honor the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, the churches that have been burned in the south, as well as the rage and grief we feel at the continued presence of racism and white supremacy.
I had just offered my prayer, and in the program it said we should next be singing Amazing Grace.  But before that, Pastor David said, we needed to do something else.  It might make us uncomfortable, but, he said, the Abysinnian Church, and more generally the black church, is a hugging church. Unfortunately, in that prayer meeting in Charleston, they never got around to ending their time with a hug.  But on that night, we weren’t going to leave that out.  We were going to end in a hug.  We were going to look to one another, many of us strangers, and say before we embraced: You are my sister.  You are my brother.  And then, embrace.
About 20 of us were there from Foothills.  There were other white folks in the gathering, but mostly the rest were African American.  Pastor David was right – it was a little uncomfortable at first.  But the joy, and the willingness was palpable, and it didn’t take long to get over the discomfort and move instead into a great relief, and hopefulness for us all, and for our world.

The Rev. David Williams, had called me a couple days before the gathering to invite Foothills and me to join the meeting.  I had first talked to him right after the Charleston shooting; I reached out to him as a pastor of a primarily African American church in Fort Collins, expressing my grief, fear, and solidarity in response to such a terrible act.  We talked about our roles as pastors and preachers – him in a primarily black church, me in a primarily white church – in a time like this, and how to be a voice of both comfort and challenge as we address and seek to transform the continued presence of racism and white supremacy.

I was humbled, and honored, that a few weeks later Pastor David reached back out to me to invite us to share in the Prayer meeting.  And I was humbled and honored to offer a prayer.  But it was that moment of embrace that gave me a better understanding and a clearer vision for how we as a Unitarian Universalist congregation are called to live into this vision of courageous love in our own community.

Which is to say – the provocative proposals team wrote this statement about our leadership, but in that moment, I realized our leadership simply took the form of showing up, being present, and following the lead of others.  It meant stepping outside our comfort zone, praying in a way we don’t usually pray, singing songs we don’t usually sing – but doing so with love, and willingness, and good will.  It was powerful, and as I said before, it gave me a glimpse of our potential powerful future.

One of my colleagues, the Rev. Sean Dennison, recently challenged a gathering of UU ministers to consider what it would _MG_1989mean if Unitarian Universalists were known most of all as the “ones who show up.”  The ones who show up with open hearts, and open minds, with willing hands and generous spirits.  The ones who show up gratefully, humbly.  I took a note at Sean’s question – not because this was a new idea – but because I recognized that this is something we already do pretty well that we could build on, and become known for pretty easily.  Coincidentally, when I had first talked to Pastor David I had told him, if you ever need someone to show up for you, call me – call Foothills.  We’ll be there. We’ll follow your lead.  

If you were one of those who helped make my promise come true last Wednesday, thank you.  And if you couldn’t make it – don’t worry, there will be lots more chances for us to show up and lead through partnership, humility and generosity – for us to further the reach of love all throughout our community, and in our own lives.   Isn’t it a beautiful vision? 

An Update on Our Immigration Ministry – Guest Post by Anne Hall with Rev. Gretchen Haley

photo(1)A few years ago, Foothills responded to the UUA’s call to learn about immigration justice in preparation for our Phoenix General Assembly.  We worked with Plymouth Congregational Church to offer workshops around immigration, and reached out to local partners to better understand the needs of immigrants in our community.  From this work together, a number of new initiatives for greater partnership and companioning of our immigrant neighbors have emerged….

  1. ESL Tutoring Program at La Familia – First, we heard the need for ESL Tutoring to be offered in conjunction with child care so that working parents especially could access the tools of increased fluency in English.  Over the past two years, over 80 Foothills and Plymouth members and friends have provided tutoring at La Familia – the Family Center – a childcare center in north Fort Collins.  Check out some photos of our ESL Tutors at work.
  2. DACA Workshops – We have been a part of a couple different efforts to reach out and support applicants for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an administrative effort to defer deportation for people who arrived here as a child from another country without legal status.
  3. Larimer County Immigration Advisory Council for Jared Polis’ Office – Foothills sends at least 1 or 2 representatives to quarterly small group meetings with Jared Polis to advise about what we see in our community in terms of the immigrant experience and ways of enhancing justice, and to hear about happenings in congress towards immigration justice.
  4. Float this Family – Members of our congregation have taken the lead on companioning an immigrant family impacted by the floods of last fall, supporting them in rebuilding their life after losing so much, particularly without being able to access federal support due to their documentation status.
  5. Companioning Immigrant Family in Greeley – In partnership with the UU Church of Greeley, we are companioning a single mother who spent many months in a detention center and finally received asylum, but not without suffering the cost of losing her home and her job.  Our support has allowed her to better access legal services and begin to rebuild her life after such significant losses.
  6. Immigration Play – Co-sponsored with Plymouth Congregational Church, “Do You Know Who I Am?” at Bas Bleu theatre, a play about the experience of immigrants who arrived in the United States as a child as they graduate from high school and find their opportunities lacking.

photo(2)Many of these efforts were enhanced through Foothills’ generous Share the Plate offerings in September, raising approximately $1500 towards immigration ministry.

As we look ahead, we are thinking about ways to expand our outreach even further.  We are building relationships with Together Colorado, a faith based organizing group, to help reach out across faith communities in the area.  And we are starting to think about creating a Northern Colorado Immigrants Relief Fund that could be used to support more people facing legal fees, scholarship needs, the impact of detention, and beyond.  We are also imagining another workshop to assist applicants for a deferred action program for the family members of those who have already received DACA that many anticipate (hoping!) President Obama will enact in the coming months.  We are listening to our interfaith community partners about the ways we can make a difference for all of our good.  We continue to look for ways of walking with our neighbors – to be companions of this shared journey of life – as we further the reach of love in our own lives, in Northern Colorado, and beyond. photo

If you have questions or want to get more involved with our Immigration Ministry, contact Anne Hall at annehall4@comcast.net.