As I sat in opening worship of Annual Gathering, there was a bird flying around the sanctuary. The bird seemed happy to be flying about, landing on the small trees near the altar. I wondered if the bird was trying to find its way out of the church. Then it occurred to me that the bird was the Holy Spirit, happy within the church, and yet also belonging to the world outside the church, and perhaps even trapped by the sanctuary walls. I found solidarity with the bird.
Have you heard? There is a banquet planned before Synod, and I have been asked to bid you come.
I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. Most of all, I really hope that you will accept the invitation. Yes, I know Synod is coming and there is lots for us to do to prepare! But, then there is that biblical mandate that we all live with to be welcoming and to enter into the community of God, while ever widening the welcome to include all whom God has invited to the banquet.
This is a goal of most congregations. Yet despite the advertisements of a radical welcome, there are some people who wonder if that welcome really includes them. I have from time to time found myself wondering if I really were invited. You see as a child, I had a pronounced speech impediment and I learned early that even when I was invited to be somewhere that I had to do some extra work to find out if I were really welcome or if I was there to entertain others as I spoke. And yes I learned to wonder this even at church. Last year, at Widening the Welcome 3 in Columbus Rev. Lynda Bigler asked in her sermon “Have you ever been faced with revealing your disability or keeping silent to keep the status quo?” and waves of remembering being told I was either not qualified or could not be qualified to serve as a chaplain because I am a woman with disability flooded over me. This time, however, those waves did not knock me down. This time I had learned I was indeed welcome not only at the table but welcomed into the community of God.
I have been questioned by people within the disability community about why I would want to be involved in the church. Its not as shocking as it seems. Many persons using wheelchairs find it difficult to get into church buildings and they feel excluded. Many persons with mental health issues find that people in the church are no more compassionate than people outside the church even as the gospel is preached each Sunday. And, yet, this is not the church I have always known or the understanding of the gospel I have learned from church. As Jason Hayes said in his speech at the last Widening the Welcome, “‘Failure to conform to social norms’ sounds like Jesus the Christ to me.”
Why am I telling you all of this? Because, I want you, my brothers and sisters in the church, to understand why I am bidding you to come to Widening the Welcome. God calls all people to God’s community. God sometimes calls people to us we do not yet understand or people whom we are not sure how or if to welcome. God, it seems does not share in all our human stigmas. So I bid you come to the banquet where we can met one another and learn what disability and mental illness are, and what they are not. Come so we can equip the leaders and laity of our congregations to extend with confidence that radical welcome to persons whose body may not be like other bodies and persons whose brains may not be like other brains. Come let us talk to one another about how to move beyond stigma and welcome all people into the full participation of the life of our churches.
Come to the Widening the Welcome, Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel. Keynote speakers will include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches. Workshops will provide information about becoming an “Accessible to ALL” (A2A) church, starting mental health ministries, caring for adolescents and the aged, as well as creating inclusion and transformation. Registration is now open and the registration brochure is available here Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure. Please follow registration instructions in the brochure. Limited scholarships funds are available. For more information about Widening the Welcome or for a scholarship form please email Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas at email@example.com
UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Pre-Synod Event, To Be Held June 27, 2013
Movement for Inclusion Hopes to Welcome Synod Attendees
The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (MIN) will offer a fourth Widening the Welcome (WtW) experience. The Fourth Widening the Welcome Conference will be held as a one-day Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. This event is scheduled to be held in Long Beach, exact location TBD.
The theme for Widening the Welcome 2013 is “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff). Two keynote speakers are expected. The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder Mental Health Ministries, will speak on “Mental Health as a Spiritual Journey” and offer a workshop on “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond.” The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches will also offer a keynote address/workshop. Both keynote speakers have self-identified as persons with disability and/or a persons in recovery.
Workshops focusing on how congregations can become Accessible to All (A2A), how congregations can develop mental health ministries will be available. Workshops such as “Prison Ministry and Mental Health as a Justice Issue,” “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” “Pastoral Care with People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, and topics not previously presented at WtW conferences are planned for this conference.
“Widening the Welcome” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. WtW continues with its vision/mission:
- to educate about mental illnesses/brain disorders and disabilities;
- to teach how to develop Mental Health Ministries and A2A (Accessible to All) Covenants in your congregation;
- to share best practices by telling stories, learning from each other, and networking;
- to equip pastoral leaders to understand and provide quality pastoral care to men and women addressing these concerns; and
- to offer spiritual support group experiences and worship together.###
The Fourth Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference sponsored by UCC Disabilities Ministries and the UCC Mental Health Network. A Pre-Synod event will be held Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Long Beach, CA. 8am-8pm. Exact location to be announced.
Speakers will include Rev. Susan Gregg Schroeder, Founder of Mental Health Ministries and Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network–North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.
Save the date, more details to come!
I am coordinating this event. I will also be offering the following workshop at the event:
Spiritual Care for Persons with Disabilities and Those Affected by Serious Brain Disorders Associated with Aging
This workshop is a multifaceted look at providing pastoral care to people with disabilities (PWD). This workshop will provide disability culture and awareness information that all professional pastoral care providers should be aware of in providing pastoral care to PWD. This workshop will touch on some historical ecumenical responses to disability, particularly the shift in ethical responses to disability that affect care provided. Finally this workshop will address providing pastoral care to persons affected with dementia, relying on first and second hand accounts as available. (Developed for professional pastoral care providers, and accessible to lay people.)
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.
Since “X” is the first letter in the Greek word Christos, from which we get the word “Christ,” and since “Xmas” has long been used as shorthand for “Christmas,” I have no problem with the abbreviation. The behavior and attitude of Judah and Jerusalem as described by the prophet, though – yes, I have a problem with that: rebellious, iniquitous, evil, corrupt, despisers of God, and either unaware or uncaring that their actions affect those around them:
Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
—Isaiah 1:7-8, NRSV
All this took place during the reign of four kings of Judah listed by the Gospel writer Matthew as ancestors of Jesus. Uzziah wasn’t a bad king as far as kings go, but he was prideful. His son, Jotham,
…did was right in the sight of the Lord … but the people still followed corrupt practices.
—2 Chronicles 27:2, NRSV
Ahaz was a crook who looted the Temple and Hezekiah was a weakling. Quite the “rogue’s gallery” of rulers.
I could take this opportunity to chastise the leaders of my own government, men and women who frequently exhibit similar poor judgment and flawed character, but that would be too easy – a cheap shot. Instead, in this Advent season and in this week of Hope, I prefer to call on not only those in positions of political power but on everyone to consider how our actions affect our sisters and brothers. My Hope is that we might learn, collectively, that contempt for Creation is akin to despising God; that ignoring the Biblical witness that calls us to compassion, justice, and love of neighbor distances us from the God who loves us; that hoarding riches effectively takes the food from the mouths of the most vulnerable of God’s children; and that the desolation described by Isaiah can be avoided when the survivors… the remnant… learn to work hand in hand to build the righteous realm of God described by Jesus in the Christian Gospels. I have Hope.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
—Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Does it ever seem to you that the world is just not right? It does to me. Does it seem that injustices abound and individuals can not always do too much to get ’ahead’ in the world? Maybe it’s not just the individual, maybe there is a more systematic force preventing justice.
If this is true, it is not the first time in human history it has been experienced. The Bible is full of examples of when the world was unjust and details some of the lives of the greatest freedom fighters in the cause of justice to ever walk the planet. It’s one reason to open the Bible and the find the juicy stuff.
The devotional passage of this first day of Advent speaks to one of the times in history of great injustice, but it is also one that looks back at a plan for living in justice and a future in which people will live with the hope of justice restored. Jeremiah may have been a strange character walking through the town streets with a yoke and eating items we would consider unsuitable for consumption—read your Bible, the disgusting extremes of injustice are detailed there alongside the juicy audacious doings of the prophets. In today’s passage, Jeremiah has gone to purchase the future crops of a field belonging to his family which had been sold to pay the debts of his family members. Yet Jeremiah is prevented from doing this, and that is the problem. That Jeremiah is prevented or delayed in reclaiming the land of his ancestors, is in some sense the straw that breaks the whole world apart and not only sets the prophet into motion but sets God to speaking through the prophet. To understand the significance of this we need to understand that Jeremiah is attempting to act in accordance with the laws laid out in the book of Leviticus (Marvin Sweeney, The Prophetic Literature, 112). These laws require him to redeem his family’s land in an effort to maintain the balance of power within the community that God ordained as a part of creation. The very balance of power that allows for justice. If Jeremiah cannot do this then the whole of creation, particularly human society within creation, is at risk of falling back into chaos. Thus God must intervene to reestablish justice.
And thus this passage looks to the future, a future of justice. Traditional Christianity, and scripture, has held that the coming Christ child is the shoot of David. I tend to think it is near irresponsible to impose elements of the New Testament on the Hebrew Bible to get such a reading. The beauty is, however, that we do not have to do so. The ministry of Jesus is one that challenges the Levitical codes pertaining to individuals so individuals may be embraced by community (experience justice), and a calling the community to the responsibilities of humane society (to be just) as called for in the Levitical codes. In some sense, both Jeremiah and Jesus call our attention to the role of the Levitical code in ordering human relationships within society and human society as whole as a guest within God’s creation. Jeremiah and Jesus remind that we are guests welcomed to experience God’s justice but also, as members of human society, quite a way from the Justice of God’s Kindom.
It’s the same old struggle that humanity must face only in a new age. As we enter into this season of Advent, particularly this week of Hope, Let us reflect on how we can be instruments of God’s justice allowing others to feel that the are welcomed alongside us in God’s Kindom. Let us pray that God would empower us each to move into a future of liberation, a future in which all peoples and all creation can live together in justice. It is the after all part of our most famous prayer, Your kindom come, Your will be done.
Today is World AIDS Day. A day the world focuses on the need to address this worldwide health issue. Its not an easy topic to address because so many people would rather not talk about it. Ignoring something does not make it go away; it only makes it dark and secret and that much more scary. HIV/AIDS remains perhaps one the greatest social taboos we have to address. And perhaps this year that is what we must focus on in our fight against HIV/AIDS. Continue the struggle to find a scientific medical cure, yes. Continue to foster the prevention of HIV infections. Continue to pray for peace from the social, financial, emotional, and other impacts that this disease brings to so many–whether they experience the illness themselves or are in relationship with someone who does.
All people are subject to stigma, in a whole variety of ways. What we often forget is that stigma and the negative impact it carries is one of the most damaging experiences an individual can encounter, but it is also the one experience that we as human beings have the most control over. Stigma is our attitude nothing more and nothing less. We can decide to change it and it is done–and it costs no money, only human will.
As a hospice chaplain, I have come to learn where many of the public restrooms in my community are. I sometimes have to stop there as I move through my day. I have even learned which public bathrooms supply soap and where I need to bring my soap in with me. Many of us maybe surprised to find how clean our park restrooms really are. A month or so ago I stopped at a small park to use the restroom. I noticed on the wall of the stall scratched into the paint the words “Kim has AIDS”. I have no idea who Kim is, if this is true, or a just a kid’s prank. But it made me think. First I thought eww is this bathroom clean enough to use? Then I thought who are the people who come in here to who would need to graffiti this? In just a few moments I recalled that World AIDS Day was soon approaching and wondered how I would mark it. I wondered about “Kim” if she were ok an getting the help she needed. And I realized anew how strong the power of stigma is.
Stigma can move you from no emotion on a topic to so much emotion on a topic that you want to flee, and this can happen in an instant. Because of the power of stigma, we have a choice: to embrace the HIV+/AIDS community and seek solutions with them or we can jerk away, leaving them to find solutions on their own. Jesus calls us to reach out to persons effected by stigma, he does so countless times in the gospels bringing stigmatized persons back into the fold of society, and that is the radical message of love. Jesus subverted stigma and so can we. Stigma can be not only subverted but reversed by the simple act of human will.
We are all affected by stigma. I am not perfect–on some level wondering if the bathroom was clean enough to use after seeing the graffiti on the bathroom wall was a reaction of my own internalized stigma. So this year I join the world in prayer and reflection on this World AIDS Day. I join in praying for friends who have died from the effects of AIDS, those who have been isolated by the stigma of AIDS and who die alone as a result, systems that marginalize people with HIV/AIDS, as well as friends and colleagues who live with HIV or AIDS. I pray for Kim. But this year I also pray for myself. I pray that God might grant me the grace to see stigma when I see it, to face it, and somehow turn it around. And I pray for the humanity of the world, that we might learn to change the things that we can and that we might turn our attitudes and stigmas about HIV/AIDS around so we might reach out to our brother and sisters and learn to all be one.
I recently went from a denominational Justice and Witness meeting to a denominational Disability Ministry meeting and Conference. As I spoke with people at my second meeting and told them that I had just come from a meeting at the Franklinton Center at Bricks I heard again and again “that is a beautiful place”. The Franklinton Center is supported by the Justice Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ.
It is a beautiful place but its beauty is haunting. The Franklinton Center at Bricks in located in rural eastern North Carolina. The land upon which it sits was once a slave plantation, but it was not just any slave plantation it was the plantation, we were told, where the “rebellious” slaves newly brought ashore were taken to be “broken in” and inducted or acculturated into slavery. The historical tradition of the place includes the report that there was once a “whipping tree” on the grounds. This was once a place of torture.
What was once a place of grave injustice and inhumanity has also been a place of hope. After the civil the property that the Franklinton Center now sits up came into the ownership of a Northern white woman named Julia Bricks. At that time a school for freed slaves was founded on the land. It was a school that educated emancipated slaves and also allowed them to work on the property to earn the funds to cover their tuition and room and board. In this way, what is now the Franklinton Center became an integral part of the surrounding community and has remained so.
Eventually the school at Bricks was closed. However, the Franklinton Center at Bricks has remained an integral part of the surrounding communities and the people who call this area home. During the Justice and Witness Ministries meeting we were taken on a tour of the tri-county area surrounding the Franklinton Center to get to know the people there and current mission work of this place. Now, I spent some time of my youth in northern Florida and had been through some impoverished areas of the South; I am not exactly a stranger to poverty having lived below that line for part of my childhood. That being said, the communities in the three counties we saw around Franklinton Center are areas of extreme poverty—one of the towns had had the highest unemployment in the nation every year for the past twenty years. Nearly every other house in these neighborhoods were not only empty but boarded up. There was an absence of grocery stores, although there were a few fast food restaurants. There was an absence of jobs, an absence of public transportation. The schools in the three counties had been consolidated so better use public funds but some children had long bus commutes. One of the ex-mayors of one of the towns told us that half the housing in the area did not currently meet community building standards but that the town could not condemn the substandard houses because they had no other place to house people in the community. Another local community leaders explained how the local tax system had been gerrymandered after desegregation to funnel property tax funds into schools where the majority of students were Caucasian, while the schools with the majority of African American and other minority students struggled for state and federal funding. This area is one that has been called a community of “educational genocide”; I still do not know what to make of that. It is also a designated “food desert” meaning that there is little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Hope remains at Franklinton Center. While we were there, we also met community members who are working to renew the community. There is a woman at the local community redevelopment corporation who showed us a newly built housing area is single and multi-family dwellings with community space for after school tutoring and computer labs; she showed us a commercial development they are trying to build to so local dollars can general local tax money that will stay in the county, since many have to shop in surrounding communities where goods are more available. She spoke to us about the pervasive racism in the area and how this has made it difficult to find commercial entities willing to locate in a predominately African American area. She also took us to the downtown area of one of the local communities to show us how parts of this area had been redeveloped and locally-owned businesses had begun moving in—including a pediatrician and soon a restaurant will open. We were introduced to man fighting the environmental racism inherent in the polluting nature of the region’s hog farming industry, who pointed out that while this industry supplies jobs they are jobs that often maim workers. There was also hope in meeting the principal of the local school who shared how the Franklinton Center is partnering with the local school. Hope is embodied at Franklinton Center in the center’s director Vivan Lucas who approached the local schools to create a family literacy camp using the dormitory and space at Franklinton Center. Hope abides in families of community members who can trace up to four generations who have enjoyed summer camp activities at Franklinton Center, and name children who have learned to swim at Franklinton Center which has the only pool in the tri-county area—did you know that African Americans have a higher risk of drowning because they often lack access to pools to learn to swim? Hope resides in this ground as a retreat and conference center has been developed to support its other ministries even as it teaches about the past. Hope is taking root as the Franklinton Center begins to plant fruit trees and experiment with community sustainable agriculture on its land to empower the local community to address its status as a “food desert”.
There is on the grounds of Franklinton Center a tree called “the tree of life” it is a symbol to commemorate the whipping tree that once shadowed these grounds. As our meeting at Franklinton Center came to a close, we stood on a platform beside this tree of life to worship. In the Communion liturgy there was a pause to read the names of some slaves who had been transferred as property of the plantation from one family to another—how deeply I felt the brokenness of humanity and deeply I yearned for the new covent of hope of that meal, as I stood before that tree commemorating the tree upon which so much blood was shed. This place bears a resemblance to our most sacred story, does it not?
As I stood in silence with others after that meal, I looked out at the vast empty field beyond the tree. The land was grassy field on one side, cotton field on the other, train track in the not too distance, and the surrounding community was hungry. Still it is a beautiful place. It is a terrible, beautiful place. A place that wants to imbibe hope as it blooms out of the roots of its past. It is a land rooted in time past and present that reminds us of how far we have come and yet so far we have to go. It is a place that teaches us that hope is as much as verb as it is noun and calls us to continue the work for all types of justice in a world where “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”.
While I do not normally use this site to advertise or fundraise, the work of Franklinton Center is too important to not make it known that the center needs financial support, including the kind that come from holding your event there, as well as prayers
Justice is a very real issue at Franklinton Center.
For more information about Franklinton Center, or to learn how to donate click: Franklinton Center/UCC
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’ John 18:10-11
Sometimes it seems as if we in America are truly a violent people. Not too long ago I saw a headline that read “Four Dead in Ohio” and I immediately thought of the Kent State shootings–stuff of legend in my family –but that was not the reference intended by the headline. No there had been another tragedy. The community was in shock that something so brutal could happen in their community. Lord Hear My Prayer.
Last weekend a man went on a shooting rampage in a movie theater in Auroa, Co–surely you have seen the headlines. It did not take long for some to find artistic portrayals of similar violent acts in comic book art. And this move theater tragedy has reminded many of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado some years ago. The community is in shock, and many are talking about the need for tighter gun regulations as the media reports on the astounding number of munition round the theater shooter was able to legally purchase and possess. All the while, gun sales have been at a record high in Colorado since this shooting. Lord Hear My Prayers.
Last weekend Manuel Diaz (unarmed) and another Latino man were shot and killed, in separate incidents, in Anaheim, CA by police. The headlines have been few. The community is at the end of day four of protests by a community outraged by this violence and the community’s feeling that there have been tensions between the Latino community and the police for sometime that have not been addressed by those in power. Some news outlets have reported these protests as rioting. Lord Hear My Prayers.
At the very lest the juxtaposition of these incidents and the responses to them raise questions. Questions related to gun possession in light of the Second Amendment; who is legally able to wield weapons and what responsibility they have as a result; and how we as a society may, or want, need to monitor and limit ammunitions possessed by private individuals. At the very least these events bring our entire society into a time of mourning and ethical reflections and we ponder how to stop such tragedies from occuring in the future. Lord, hear our confusion and help us to pray through it.
These events raise many questions. Legal questions, questions about bullying, questions about whether or not mental health issues were involved. (Note, although many have speculated, I have heard no confirmed reports yet that the theater gunman has a mental health diagnosis. Let us not equate illness with violence when 1) there is not a link between mental illness and violence and 2) it is unknown if the person in question has a mental health diagnosis.) Lord hear our confusion and our questions and help us pray through them.
At the end of the day I am a clergy woman, bound by ordination vows to preach and teach the gospel. And as I look at these events I see two things. I see a society in which no matter where you look you see some form of violence–be it real or a fictional/artistic portrayal of violence. Perhaps this is not a new thing in the history of humanity. But, I also see a scriptural teaching of Jesus. A teaching in which even Jesus would not condone violence to save himself from arrest and death, not even to continue his teaching among us. And I wonder when we, individually, let alone as a society, will not only take up the task of doing what seems so contrary to our natures but will also be willing to sacrifice our own betrothal to violence, to follow the teachings of Jesus. Lord Hear My Prayer.