“Its A Beautiful Place”

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.

 

Photo of one of the buildings at Franklinton Center

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.

 

The old dormitory at Franklinton Center

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.

 

Building used as a dinning hall at Franklinton Center

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.

 

The pool at Franklinton Center

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”.

Field near Franklinton Center

 

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”.

field #2 near Franklinton Center

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

The Ordination Paradox

Amanda Kersey just got ordained and is singing I'll Fly Away

“How does it feel, Rev?” “What’s it like?” “Are you used to it yet?” These are just a few of the questions I have been asked within the last couple of weeks after my ordination. To be honest I feel a mixture of emotions and think I will for some time. After the first week at the surface I felt relief, excitement, happiness, contentment, confidence and to be honest a little sadness. However, after my second week there was new deeper emotion and I couldn’t name it. It was bothering me so badly I actually had to stop blogging to figure it out. To put it simply, I feel that a wrong has been righted. And with that there is new found stillness in my mind, soul and body. A stillness that in some way feels distantly familiar.

Listening to all of the human interest stories from the Olympics helped me articulate what was going on for me. Hearing some of the inspiring stories and sacrifices the athletes made over the years—something I can halfway understand as a former USS and collegiate swimmer. However, for me the swimming analogy is a little deeper. I’m still not really sure what happened to me as a swimmer and to be honest I’m not sure it was just one thing. It’s more like it was a perfect storm. It’s not something I totally regret, because I truly and deeply feel like I am exactly where I need to be in my life and the bad and the good attributed to me being where I am. I do, however, feel that what happened to me as a swimmer had a good chance of repeating itself in my professional career and calling. I felt that old urge to settle, buckle under, back off because my drive upset others (having moms of my teammates yell at me in the locker rooms) and do “just enough.” I gave in for a while allowing myself to be walked over, overworked and underappreciated in my marriage and in the church. As a kid I was at the mercy of others, but as an adult it was all me and this time enough was enough. I thought about the words of Christ that we are to forgive seventy times seven. I also recalled the biblical examples of where people parted ways without cross feelings, but with an understanding that it just wasn’t working. For me I worked hard to forgive not only others, but myself for allowing myself to be used in those ways. I had to make the decision to walk away from my spiritual tradition in 2008 in order to do what I know I am supposed to do now and set myself up for the future. It was an excruciating and yet beautiful process, one I have both hated and loved.

I ignored the pulling in my life towards ordination for years for many different reasons. I knew my life would have to drastically change—I knew it would expedite the end of a significant relationship, bring some dissension within my family and force me to break ties with a religious community that once loved and nurtured me and I it. However, the scariest part of ordination was the internal dialogue I had to engage with myself and God as I had to consider what it meant to follow a God that I felt was calling me out of and against everything I had been taught and believed for so long. When God lives in a box and Gods actions and motivations can be surmised in a nice tightly wrapped systematic theology it’s easy to get comfortable and dare I say arrogant. This process broke me in new ways as I had to come to the realization my two degrees in religion speak more to the fact that I enjoy academia than my understanding of God. God has once again shown me that the truth of the words of Isaiah, “God’s ways are not my ways and God’s thoughts are not my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). I was once again reminded that when God calls us out into new places there are critics on all our sides, encouraging us to doubt and question and even at times suggesting our faith is immature and misguided. However, I have once again been reminded to claim the truth that the voices of the many do not outweigh the whisper of the One. I’m not saying I didn’t listen to others. In fact I believe others are a way in which God speaks to and through us. However, it felt too reminiscent and I had given in before, but not this time.

July 22, 2012 I was ordained in the UCC after having hands laid upon me both literally and figuratively affirming the call of God on my life and having a church promise to support me. This public affirmation for me once again brought a deep sense of healing making visible something I had only been able to imagine. I have known the call on my life since I was 17, but to have it confirmed in front of witnesses transforms the internal into the external causing something mystical and supernatural to happen. The wrong had been righted. After years of being denied job applications, having to have checks from the church written to my ex-husband instead of me for the work I had done and even having churches offer to pay for his seminary and not mine all that injustice has been righted. Now, I am not one of those who believe that the past is somehow magically erased, but I do believe it can be shelved. I don’t want to forget, because it is what drives me to look for others who have had similar experiences and creates in me a new found sensitivity.

There is no anger or resentment (anymore). I am truly grateful for a religious upbringing that introduced me to God, taught me so much about spiritual discipline and gave me a love for scripture. I’m forever thankful for the roots, but sometimes plants are uprooted and replanted in order to fully grow. The sadness of ordination has been that there has been very little acknowledgement from people in my past—the tradition which I left. I’m sure it’s because some think I have lost my mind or at least temporarily gone insane. Perhaps some think maybe if it’s not acknowledged it does not exist. However, the support I have received has been amazing and for right now that is enough. It’s already opened up some interesting opportunities to meet others. All in all I’m pretty excited about the future, but also feeling grounded in the present.

Ordination on YouTube

Here is the final playlist of videos from my ordination. There are five videos that will play straight through if you let it, or you can use the advance button to get to the next video.

  1. Thoughts before the ordination
  2. Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas’ sermon
  3. Special music: Lois Myers sings “Be Strong, Take Courage”
  4. Ordination liturgy including laying on of hands
  5. Unedited complete service

SHE Will Be Ordained

We a WWSIC are happy to announce that our co-founder Amanda Kersey has been approved for ordination by the Southern Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ!

We must say it was a historic day. Amanda presented her faith journey and theology to the gathered clergy and lay persons, and when the time came to question her so as to further examine her fitness for ministry….there was utter SILENCE!

No question about it, she is fit for ministry, she is called by God, and SHE will be ordained!

Congratulations Amanda!

UPDATE: Amanda’s Ordination service is set for 3pm, Sunday, July 22, 2011 and will be held at the Mission Hills United Church of Christ at 4070 Jackdaw Street in San Diego, California. Ya’ll come!

Calling Forward the Ways of Church: A Woman Named Virgina Kreyer

Today is “Access Sunday” in the UCC, a day for celebrating the inclusion of people with disabilities in our congregations and denomination. In honor of this day I am posting this bio of Virginia Kreyer which I wrote some years ago for a polity class. Here is to all those who work to widen the welcome of our churches.

a photo of Virgina Kreyer

Rev. Virginia Kreyer was more than a pioneer of her time; and today she is one of the heroes within the UCC tradition. As Kreyer would likely urge me to point out, she is not a hero because of the circumstances of her life, rather she is a hero because she called upon our denomination to examine its own participation in unjust systems and in so doing, called the UCC itself to change. Kreyer was a social activist, and the UCC would not have the same social commitments that it does today if she had not spoken from her unique perspective for change. To speak about social issues in her own voice required not only great courage from Kreyer but that she also use her own story as a tool for explaining the need for and way to change. For this, Kreyer has been called a pioneer as well as a prophet (“Virginia Kreyer Award” and “Reverend Virginia Kreyer Named Antoinette Brown Woman”).

Virginia Kreyer was born in 1925, and “[d]ifficulties at her birth . . . resulted in cerebral palsy at a time when the condition was little understood” (“Alumni Books: Virginia’s Story”). At that time, cerebral palsy (CP) was not a disability often seen openly in society; yet, rather than hide Virginia and cater to her needs, her family was bold in their approach to raising her. It has been noted that: “Virginia’s mother was pivotal in how Virginia became who she is. She never allowed her daughter to use her disability as an excuse. Believing that a disability is not something you hide, she imbued Virginia with her quality of dogged persistence” (“Reverend Virginia Kreyer Named Antoinette Brown Woman”). While Kreyer had family support, it often requires more for those with CP to thrive in a world that does not understand what it means to live with the challenges CP. Gay McCormick, UCC DM representative to the Office of General Ministry, has pointed out that “[t]o know the importance of [Virginia’s] qualities it is necessary to understand that she required years of physical and occupational therapy as well as extensive speech therapy, and, that as a child, she was perceived as mentally retarded because of her speech” (Ibid). Fortunately, this perception was one that Kreyer would surpass as she grew physically, intellectually, educationally, and professionally.

Kreyer thrived in her life and her education. However, it was not only Kreyer’s family who inspired her to thrive. Kreyer’s “faith in God inspired her as well. She once said, [that] ‘those who have accepted their handicaps and triumphed over them are those who have learned to look beyond themselves for help and learned of the ways of the spiritual world’” (UCC Vitality). It was a spiritual lesson she learned early, yet that would not make her journey any easier. In Kreyer’s “high school and college days she had felt God’s call to work in the church. It was a call to make this world a better place in which to live, but ‘Who would ordain a ‘handicapped” woman?’ the writer of her nominating letter said” (“Reverend Virginia Kreyer Named Antoinette Brown Woman”). It was a good question in the 1940 and 1950’s. It was a question that Kreyer would answer. “A year after Virginia graduated from college she became a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York, but not before her first application for admission was rejected. With the assistance of clergy and Union faculty who supported her, she was admitted as a full-time B.D. (now M.Div.) student” (Ibid). As a disabled woman, Kreyer had to fight to even get into seminary.

Kreyer was ordained first, in a denomination other than the UCC (unclear which one), after her graduation from UTS. At that time, she went to work, hoping to be a chaplain, for the Nassau County (NY) Cerebral Palsy Center where she worked until 1984. However, it is said this center had intended for Kreyer to be a role model to others of what was possible for persons with CP; Kreyer was not happy with this and started a Masters of Social Work program, which she completed in 1960. (Ibid.)

In the ten years between 1967 and 1977, Kreyer would begin to step into her call to a ministry that would make the world a better place to live. “In 1967 she began attending Garden City Community Church, a UCC congregation, becoming a UCC member in 1971. Then she began a long process of being ordained in the UCC” (Ibid). It was during the process of transferring her ordination status to the UCC, that she commented to her ordination committee in New York on the need for “beginning of a committee for persons with disabilities called handicapped / physically challenged” (Ibid).

Kreyer may not have been asking for a new job, but she had it. After five frustrating years of trying to get her association to address the needs of people with physical disabilities, it was suggested to Kreyer that a resolution be presented to the New York Conference at their next meeting. Not only did the New York resolution pass in 1976, but it was forwarded for action to the 1977 Synod (Ibid). Both Rev. Virginia Kreyer and Rev. Harold Wilke (born without arms) gave moving speeches urging the 1977 Synod (UCC Vitality) to endorse “ministry to and with persons with disabilities” (“Reverend Virginia Kreyer Named Antoinette Brown Woman”). It was a defining moment for both Kreyer and the UCC. Kreyer accepted the 1/5th time consulting position with the denomination that this resolution created; in this position, she assisted local churches in learning how to become accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities. This work made Kreyer the first leader of what has come to be known as the UCC Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM).

Kreyer’s advocacy for people with disabilities was not limited to the UCC. “In 1991 she attended the Consultation on the Disabled in preparation of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and then served as a UCC delegate to the World Council, working on issues of disability rights”(Ibid). Kreyer also served as  “a member of the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) Committee of the Disabled, and then a member of the Board of Directors, 1977-1995” (Ibid). Kreyer retired from service to the UCC in 1995. (Ibid).

Kreyer’s work within the UCC will be long remembered. At the Synod in 2001, a new award known as the ‘Kreyer Award’ was announced to recognize persons who “have shown a pioneering spirit in the work of the UCCDM” and “leadership inside and outside the church and furthering the day when persons with disabilities will be full partners and contributors within church and society” (“The Virginia Kreyer Award”). Kreyer was the first person to receive the Kreyer Award. In 2007, Kreyer was given the high honor of the UCC’s Antoinette Brown Award, reserved for distinguished and ordained UCC women (“Reverend Virginia Kreyer Named Antoinette Brown Woman”).

Rev. Virginia Kreyer’s work in advocating for the opening of all the churches to all of God’s children with disabilities has been felt and discussed, literally, around the world. Kreyer not only sent out the call for the UCC to change but she used her own journey-story, to create the change that she needed to see in the denomination and the world. It has been said that Kreyer was “a rare human being whose faith and witness has inspired the UCC to extend an extravagant welcome. Her welcome embraces all people, but especially those with disabilities of any kind” (UCC Vitality). Doors have been opened, that cannot be shut. The UCC will never be the same, thanks to Rev. Virginia Kreyer, the woman who did!

As We Forgive Others—Rev. Kelli

Rev. Kelli mugging at the marquee at church with her name on with "rev." painted in after the fact

Uh, that's "Rev." if you please...

Kelli just delivered her first sermon since being ordained in May. It was delivered at CCCPB on August 14th. Since it ran past YouTube’s 15 minute rule, it had to be cut into two, and at least at the time of posting, this is how we gotta do it. Back at YouTube, you can view it as a slightly more graceful playlist that will auto play in series.

Rev. Kelli looks at food insecurity in the time Joseph, a Hebrew in Egypt, and the dire situation in Africa (and lots of places) today, and introduces the UCC Mission 1 campaign.

UCC “Widening the Welcome” —Again…More ‘Firsts’

The UCC has a history of being a denomination of firsts! Thus, I lift up to you some new firsts that have occurred within the UCC. At the end of September approximately 300 people, from Maine to Hawaii, gathered in St Louis, Missouri for the “Widening the Welcome” Conference. It was the first UCC Disability Ministry Conference! It may have been the first disability ministry conference, ever. As I talked with other people in attendance it became apparent that this was also the first conference (religious, academic, or professional) that attendees could remember that brought the issues of mental illness/brain disorders and disability together for reflection, communion, and dialogue about the future of ministry and inclusion. In the disability and mental illness communities this gathering was rather a big deal!

Beside the breath-taking St Louis Arch that symbolizes what was once the gateway to new frontiers, UCC members, clergy, people living with and without disability and/or mental illness came together to reflect on the ministries of inclusion they were already involved with and to learn from one another how the local church might be more inclusive of people with disabilities or mental illness and their families. Keynote speakers included Dr. Sister Nancy Kehoe, a Clinical Instructor in Psychology who spoke about her experience integrating spirituality in the realm of mental health services and offered workshops on how this can be a practical and supportive ministry in local settings, and Dr. Debbie Cramer Assistant Professor at Iliff School of Theology spoke about disability theology. Rev. Dr. Jane Fisler Hoffman preached the importance of including persons, including clergy, with mental illness in our faith communities. Rev. Bob Molsberry challenged us to consider who the “guest” is and who the “host” might really be when we encounter people with disabilities in our churches. Rev. Peter Bauer was also a force at the conference reminding us that both traumatic brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder are huge issues for soldiers returning from war and that this presents a challenge to clergy who “4 times out of 10” are the first professionals who people with PTSD may seek help from, as well as being a challenge for congregations that have members returning from war or congregations that are engaged in ministry to military families and personnel. There were many more wonderful discussions and speakers at the conference–this is only a sampling.

The Widening the Welcome (WtW) conference was important in content and more about that can be found at the conference’s website (below), but it was also important in fellowship. For the first time people involved in doing disability ministry, those involved with the academic writing of disability theology, persons with disabilities who had been included in the church, those with disabilities or family with disabilities who sought deeper inclusion in the church, clergy with disabilities, seminarians with disabilities, and their allies were all gathered in one place. It was a time to reflect on where the UCC really was thirty-three years after passing its first Synod resolution about including people with disabilities and where we have still to grow as local churches and as a denomination into our 2005 Synod resolution urging us to be churches “Accessible 2 All”. In fact, bearing witness to this gathering, our UCC General Conference Minister, Rev. Geoffery Black addressed the conference, saying that the Disability Ministry and Mental Illness Network of the UCC “are a movement within the movement of the UCC”. True to that statement, a small group of attendees met, post-conference, to plan what the UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network will bring to the 2011 Synod and to start planning the next “Widening the Welcome” Conference for September 2011.

The ‘movement with’ the UCC to “widen the welcome”, again, has begun. Stay alert for information about the Widening the Welcome 2 Conference planned for September 2011. And, if you are wishing now that you had had the opportunity to tap into the vast resources the first conference provided then I offer you the following ideas:

  • The keynote addresses and individual workshops at WtW were recorded for distribution and are available on DVD; for more information on how to obtain these resources go to the Widening the Welcome conference website at: http://www.moredomainsforless.com/wideningthewelcome/index.htm.
  • Connect with the UCC Disabilities Ministries or the UCC Mental Illness Network, both have websites with lots of information; and Widening the Welcome has a Facebook presence you may join.
  • Get involved in disability ministry! The UCCDM resource ‘Anybody, Everybody, Christ’s Body’ is a wonderful resource for people who want to learn more or lead a congregational study on including people with disabilities, and you can download it for FREE!

Finally, if this is an interest to you, reach out! I would love to connect and work with people/congregations who are interested in disability ministry. Above all the UCC Disabilities Ministry conference highlighted that as a communion of local churches we are resources for one another in learning to continue to bring all persons on the margins not only into our doors but also into full participation with the gospel, our congregations, and our many ministries.