CommonLot A J O U R NA L F O R WO M E N I N T H E U N I T E D C H U R C H O F C H R I S T
Telling Their Truth: Stories from Prison “Release of the Captives” A Congregation Inside the Walls of a Prison Black and Pink: Reaching Out in Writing
I was in prison, and you visited me. . . (Matthew 25:36)
Women Organize in Guatemala
Do You Know the Way to Lydia’s House?
Immigration Reform: The Burden on Women
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Telling Their Truth Stories from Prison
C O N T E N T S
Where is the Justice?
Pat Rumer went to Guatemala last summer with her daughter, a graduate student in Latin American Studies. They were part of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA delegation to Guatemala, Women in Resistance: Seeking Justice for Genocide and Defending Our Land. Here she recounts, in vivid recollection and through the words of the women involved, three stories of Guatemalan women courageously standing up for their land against powerful corporate interests and relentlessly seeking justice in the trial of former Guatemala dictator Rios Montt, convicted of genocide in May, 2013.
Lydia’s House Michelle Torigian 28
Release of the Captives
A CONGREGATION INSIDE THE WALLS OF A PRISON
Black and Pink
“I am honored to serve a dying church . . .” Maren Tirabassi Poet and pastor Maren Tirabassi does not currently serve a dying church, but, she says, “a very small one—only five pews deep and forty-five members and it keeps us always aware of the fragility of our churching, and that it is really OK.” In this poem, Maren honors “so many churches who have died with grace and love.”
THE BURDEN ON WOMEN Sandra Sorenson, who works in the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries Washington, D.C. office, left her desk last fall and got arrested on Capitol Hill, where she joined 20 undocumented women as part of a Women for Common Sense Immigration Reform protest. The purpose was to bring attention to what Sandy calls our country’s “horrendously unjust immigration system.” “Women bear the burden of a failed immigration system,” she says, “but the struggle of immigrant women often goes unseen.”
Marijuana: A Theology
Would I Be Welcome There Now?
DREAMS OF COURT STREET Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Chicago Theological School professor Susan Thistlethwaite weighs in on the morality of the legalization of marijuana—focusing on the social cost to our nation of the huge numbers of Americans in jail for non-violent drug offenses. Calling the so-called “war on drugs” begun in the Nixon years a colossal failure, she asks if the legalization of marijuana can “have a place in a Christian theology that values, instead of denigrates, the [social] body.”
SERVING UP HEAPING PLATES OF CONFIDENCE
REACHING OUT IN WRITING
The Middle School years are not the easiest for anyone, but young teenage girls are especially prone to crises of confidence when they reach puberty. That’s why Café 361 is such a godsend for the 6th-8th grade girls who take part in this program that began in a Boys and Girls Club but continues at First Congregational UCC in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The girls gain confidence along with cooking skills as they plan, prepare, and serve community meals at the church.
Graduate student Elizabeth Mork was amazed by the number of prisoners’ names on the mailing list of Black and Pink, an organization that describes itself as “an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and ‘free world’ allies who support each other.” Black and Pink facilitates letter-writing to prisoners, and as Elizabeth got involved, she was touched and surprised to find herself being supported by the prisoners she wrote to.
Immigration Reform Sandra Sorenson
ABIDING WITH GOD IN THE EVERYDAY Where do you go when you have no family that can take you in, no money of your own, small children— and a husband or partner whose violent outbursts have you living in fear in your own home? If you live in St. Louis, you can go to Lydia’s House, where up to two years of transitional housing are available for abused women and children. Writer Michelle Torigian reflects on her time working at Lydia’s House during her first year of seminary.
Growing up, writer Diana Snowa endured a strict upbringing and a harsh-tempered father. But church every Sunday was a balm, and years later she still recalls her trusted pastor preaching from Isaiah on “freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.” As an adult, Diane has been involved in a variety of prison ministries. Here she tells the story of the Luther Luckett Christian Church, inside a correctional facility in LaGrange, Kentucky.
THREE STORIES OF COURAGEOUS WOMEN IN GUATEMALA
In 2009, Elaine Blanchard—writer, story-teller, actor, and ordained minister—went to the Shelby County jail for women, in Memphis, with an unusual request. She asked prison administrators for permission to go inside the jail and listen to the prisoners. She just wanted to listen, to hear their stories—whatever they wanted to tell her. “I think most people go to jails to save souls. I just wanted to listen, and that was different.”
Martha Spong, an ordained UCC minister and Director of RevGalBlogPals, an ecumenical support ministry for clergywomen, shares a lovely and loving memory of the Baptist church in which she grew up—despite knowing that her own church would never have ordained her. “I am an ordained woman, and I am a minister’s wife, and she is my wife, too,” she writes, and then asks: “Would I be welcome there now? Could I come back, a child formed in that church, and offer them a good word?”
From The Publisher
I think you’ll agree with me: the stories in this issue of Common Lot are engaging and diverse, but most of all, they are inspiring. From rural Guatemala to a women’s prison in Tennessee, from a domestic violence shelter in St. Louis to a program for middle-school girls in Iowa, a theme running through this issue is empowerment. It is incredibly inspiring to hear women who have been voiceless gain confidence, and it’s our privilege to hear what they have to say. “My testimony is not worth anything!” cries an angry Guatemalan woman who survived genocidal attacks on indigenous Mayans in the 1980’s. “Nobody has ever believed a word I have to say, so I no longer choose to waste time on telling the truth,” says a woman in a Tennessee prison. But their stories don’t end there. Our writers take us behind the bars of prison, to tell us about three unique and nontraditional ministries they have either started or been involved with. While they all do not describe what they do as “ministry,” I think you will find their concern for the spiritual lives—and more—of the prisoners they work and communicate with truly compelling. In particular, Elaine Blanchard takes us with her inside a women’s prison, where she conducts writing classes that give some women a chance to speak their stories out loud for the very first time. The result? “Even in jail, the women are set free.”
Also in this issue is a first-hand account from Pat Rumer of rural women in Guatemala taking on both a dictator and a huge corporation—seeking justice and the protection of their land. Again, you will hear from the women in their own words. While some of what they say will break your heart, ultimately you will be amazed inspired by the strength and resilience of the women you will meet in these pages.
Ann E. Poston Director, Publishing, Identity and Communication, United Church of Christ Common Lot Ann E. Poston Publisher Christina Villa Editor Barbara A. Powell Production Manager Common Lot is published twice a year. Sign up for a free subscription at ucc.org/commonlot. Comments, ideas and story suggestions can be sent to CLeditor@ucc.org. A publication of the United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115.
Telling Their Truth: Stories from Prison “Release of the Captives” A Congregation Inside the Walls of a Prison Black and Pink: Reaching Out in Writing
‘Stories Prison ‘ from
In January of 2010, I began a story-sharing and performance program, “Prison Stories,” in the Shelby County Jail for Women, in Memphis, Tennessee. I sit in a circle with twelve women and we listen to each other. There are stories told about kids, mothers, memories of childhood, experiences of abuse and neglect, stories about crimes, addictions, hopes and dreams.
Telling theirTruth Elaine Blanchard I went to the jail because I have a theory. My theory is that if people are given a chance to tell their stories and to be heard (really listened to with respect), those people will find a way to be free. Free from whatever trap or limitation they have constructed in previous stories, free to ask questions, free to imagine new relationships, free to dream dreams, free to discover a new story, free to choose an improved future. Initially the stories told in the circle are something like this: “I am not very smart; so school is not for me.” “I’ve never felt loved, so I’ll give birth to a child who will have no choice but to cling to my side.” “My daddy beat my mama regularly and my boyfriend beats me now. My kids are screaming in fear. Pain pills keep me standing.”
“Nobody has ever believed a word I have to say, so I no longer choose to waste time on telling the truth.”
We are all capable of improving our life story when other people listen to us and care about the stories we tell. Even in jail, the women are set free.
Early in my experience inside the jail I learned to provide choices for the women in the storysharing circle. Small things. Chocolate brownies or oatmeal cookies? Two or four? Once a month or so, I bring paperback books to the classroom with me, about 20 of them. I display them on a table top and invite the women to “shop” for a book before the class gets started. Small things, but choices nonetheless. People in jail are not allowed many choices. You get what you get when it’s given to you. That’s part of the punishment. That’s being in jail. Testing my theory has proven to me that we all have a story that longs to be set free. When we discover our authentic voice, we find our life story can be improved. We are all capable Common Lot
of improving our life story when other people listen to us and care about the stories we tell. Even in jail, the women are set free.
Pictured here are my most recent Prison Stories class members. Also included in this picture are members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra who asked to be included in the 8th class of Prison Stories. A string quartet attended class every Monday night. They brought their instruments (two violins, a viola and a cello) and they brought themselves, vulnerable and authentic. The professional musicians shared their own stories inside the circle. They received comfort and encouragement from the women who live inside the jail. The musicians played classical pieces that warmed and softened the cold impersonal prison environment. Walls came crumbling down and sturdy connections were established. Friendships were forged. From the stories shared in our writing classes, I write and stage performances using local actors to tell the women’s stories. “Prison Stories” performances are held both inside and outside
The stories change as time goes by and relationships are deepened. Women who thought they were not smart find themselves bright enough to teach all of us something vitally important. Women who have never felt loved begin to realize that love is as real and available as the air we breathe in the story-sharing circle. Women who have leaned on narcotics and alcohol in order to find relief discover relief in being heard, their pain acknowledged and validated. Women who have grown afraid to tell the truth find their stories affirmed, and they realize it was affirmation they needed all along in order to accept their own truth. Trust is born. Class participants trust themselves more and that allows them to trust others. I watch it happen with each class. Stories deepen and women in the circle find themselves willing to cry; feeling safe enough “Women who have to let go of pain and sorrow that had settled never felt loved begin into their bones. The to realize that love is real reward comes as as real and available as participants begin to the air we breathe in the recognize the absolute beauty in the circle, the story-sharing circle.” power in each story shared. In talking about the work that I do in the jail, people often refer to it as “ministry.” But I do not think of “Prison Stories” as a ministry. It is a class, an opportunity for all of us in the circle to learn, to grow and to connect with each other. The four-month process is set up like the courses I teach at Memphis College of Art and Memphis Theological Seminary. Students receive a syllabus and their textbooks on the first night of class. Class meets twice a week for ninety-minute sessions. Homework is assigned: chapters to be read and essays to be written. We come together and share what we have written. If anything in the process is sacred, it is the choice we make to listen to each other. Healing occurs while stories are shared and received by respectful ears. We do that for each other. We choose to speak our truth and we choose to be a healing circle.
the prison for the benefit of the entire community. The string quartet shown here played for one of our performances. It was outstanding.
ELAINE BLANCHARD is a storyteller, actor and writer based in Memphis, Tennessee. Read more about her at elaineblanchard.com.
Captives Diane Snowa
A CO N GREGAT I O N I N S I DE T H E WALLS OF A PRISON
‘Stories Prison ‘ from
In my 1940’s childhood home, church-going was a must. Our family of five sat in the second pew from the chancel and in front of the pulpit. Our pastor was an elderly man—as a child, I thought of him as about 104 years old, and full of wisdom—with a voice that reached my soul. I remember one of the most penetrating and perplexing messages I heard in church was from the fourth chapter of Luke, in which Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah about the “release of the captives” and the “setting at liberty of those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19). Growing up, I also had the experience of living with a father who was a harsh and angry man. He had been a sheriff in his earlier days and he had a strict code of ethics: he was right and his children were wrong. His often-recited mantra was, “Children should be seen and not heard.” My sister and I were often strapped with a belt. My mother was a quiet wife and mother. As children, we played outside as often as possible, sometimes tethered with a clothesline to a beautiful chestnut tree in the yard of our rented flat. School and church were my refuge. I later became a high school teacher; and still later, an ordained pastor. The memories of my aged pastor, my childhood experiences with an angry father, and those verses from Luke have prompted many questions and many endeavors over the years. One was during the 1970’s, when I joined church-mates who were writing to prisoners. I remember one inmate in particular who shared with me multiple poems he wrote while incarcerated. Some time later, I received a phone call. My pen pal had been released from prison, and Hallmark had offered him a job writing quips for greeting cards. My heart sang; a prisoner had been offered liberty! In 2003, my husband and I arrived in Louisville, Kentucky, and I was invited to join team from the Disciples of Christ (DOC) who were investigating the possibility of founding a congregation inside the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, a medium security prison located just beyond Louisville.
The brain-storming and resource-gathering eventually brought our Board to Prison Congregations of America, a network whose booth I had visited during two United Church of Christ General Synods. Finally in 2006, the Luther Luckett Christian Church (LLCC) (DOC) was founded. Worship began on Friday evenings. The congregation started small (25-30 men) and grew quickly to over 100. The sermon messages of love and mercy, forgiveness and hope resonated with these men, and the hymn-singing resounded as if 1,000 voices were present. I learned within the first year that most of these men were either un-churched or recipients of “hellfire and
With my background in high school and college teaching, I assumed the task of organizing Life Skill classes to begin the education program we envisioned. The classes would be held each week in the hour and a half before worship. I wrote curriculum, recruited the teachers, trained the teachers, and in teams of four we taught the classes. Each Life Skill program was a five-week class per quarter. Our topics have included money management, starting a new business, looking for and securing a job, decision-making, interpersonal relationships, parenting skills, forgiveness, resilience, managing stress, and emotional intelligence. Professionals from the community and our DOC and UCC churches answered our calls for expertise.
As they grew into a God of love and mercy, the worshippers discovered new ways to pray, new ways to hope, and new possibilities for the living of their days. Their bodies may have been restrained, but their spirits found release! brimstone” messages. As they grew into a God of love and mercy, the worshippers discovered new ways to pray, new ways to hope, and new possibilities for the living of their days. Their bodies may have been restrained, but their spirits found release! Our Board meetings were held monthly, and we began each meeting with reflections on what we saw happening in the lives of our worshippers. The “what next?” question was posed, and we identified two new missions: an education program and a re-entry program.
I feel as if I can be a new person when I leave these walls.
At the end of each 5-week program, students who participated in four of the five classes are awarded a Certificate of Participation. The ceremony prompted wide smiles and thunderous applause as each man came forward to claim his certificate. Classes now boast 70-80 students with 30-45 earning awards. Transfers to other facilities, illness, and conflicting schedules affect attendance. Teaching these men has been an immense joy. They are an attentive student group, more than willing to ask questions and enter dialogue. “I never thought I would
enjoy school” is a frequent response, or “I never thought I could learn so much so easily.” The response that thrills me most is, “I feel as if I can be a new person when I leave these walls.” Our second mission has been a re-entry program. Throughout Kentucky, DOC and UCC congregational members are invited to attend Friday night worship. (Seven to eight visitors are allowed by the prison.) Within these congregations, Circles of Nurture, Support, and Accountability are formed. When a man is released from prison and chooses to locate in an area where a Circle has been trained, the released inmate is welcomed to the church and community and has a three to five-member group to offer emotional support, resource information, and other deemed necessities except lodging and money. At my local UCC church, I have been a member of two Circles of Nurture, Support, and Accountability. Our first “guest” was M. His sentence was for a sexual offense. He had served three and a half years of a 10year sentence. During the several months he was with us, he completed two GED courses and worked at two jobs. He was fired from his first when the boss discovered the nature of his offense; his second was a Christmas season limited position. Unfortunately, M did not heed the Circle’s warnings nor those of his parole officer. Consequently, he has returned to prison to serve out his sentence. The good news is that his second incarceration has punctuated his need to respect authority and to sharpen his interpersonal skills. Consequently, he has been moved to the Honor Dorm, is completing his GED course work, and has a job at the prison. His letters tell me he has profited from the relationship he had with the Circle of Support, Nurture and Accountability and is taking advantage of the opportunities within the prison. He attends worship regularly at LLCC (DOC) and counts the months till he can return to his UCC church home in 2016. The second guest to our Circle was a man with drug abuse/dealing charges. After six months of freedom and a minimum wage job, he yielded to the pressure from family to return home. We know he is in good standing with his parole officer there, and we can only pray that his commitment to stay out of the drug business remains strong. The prison system in America is in need of radical reform. As our Board meets and dialogues with the Department of Corrections personnel, it has seemed to me that one of the major contradictions of the system is that those who design and manage the prison system
(government officials) are the same people whom we are asking to reform it. Without others, namely the church, putting ourselves and our efforts into the issue of prison reform, the punitive mentality will guide the conversation. Ideas like restorative justice are just a haze, little more than a dream. Today, I speak as often as I can about the LLCC (DOC) congregation, my participation in it, and the need for grassroots reform. My experience tells me that drug addicts, sexual offenders, murderers, thieves, and violence perpetrators can be reformed, rehabilitated, and released into society as productive citizens. During the six years of activity through the LLCC (DOC) congregation, the recidivism rate for our men is 11%, a figure significantly lower than the Kentucky or national rates. The church, I would hope, can embrace the words from Scripture that promote the release of captives and liberty for the oppressed. The key is education, therapy, and training, enhanced by supporters on the outside. I have been educated, appreciated, and blessed by those with whom I have walked the prison halls.
REV. DIANE SNOWA has served UCC and DOC churches in Missouri, Virginia, and Louiville. She is retired and attending St. Andrew UCC, Louisville, when not providing pulpit supply.
Editor’s Note: As this issue of Common Lot was going to press, the Board of the Luther Luckett Christian Church (DOC) decided to terminate its relationship with Luther Luckett Correctional Complex and has withdrawn the activities there. A representative notes: “Sadly and with great disappointment, it was decided that it was no longer feasible to maintain a congregation at that prison setting. Continued interference by the administration and decisions made by the prison administration to curtail activities which were vital to the ministry rendered maintaining the integrity of this successful ministry impossible. With regret we conducted our last worship service on January 30th. However, God has opened a new door at The Diersen House [a Halfway House in Louisville] where our new congregation, New Life in Christ Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is thriving. We are welcomed there and can invite outside churches to visit, lead Bible studies, teach life skills classes and engage in mission projects along with growing our re-entry mentoring program through Mission Behind Bars and Beyond. Please continue to keep this ministry in your prayers. We are grateful for your continued support.”
ReachingOutin Writing Elizabeth Mork
‘Stories Prison ‘ from
Last January, my partner, Jeremy, and I became Black and Pink members. The organization was on my radar due to their sponsoring a conversation in Boston between Angela Davis and Noam Chomsky titled “Radical Futures and Prospects for Freedom” in 2012. Black and Pink is an organization that provides a number of services and supports to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people in prison. During December, I had the chance to participate in a Holiday Card Writing party. Collectively, we wrote postcards to roughly 2,800 people on the Black and Pink mailing list. I was surprised by the vast number of names on the list, and I was curious to learn how to get more involved. In January, I showed up for a day of mail processing to further learn of the work Black and Pink does. Black and Pink’s services include connecting prisoners to legal and medical aid, fielding advocacy requests, providing literature, publishing a newsletter made up of submissions from people in prison, and running an extensive Pen Pal Database where free world individuals can connect to potential pen pals in prison. I currently have two active pen pals and one other person that I've written with a few times back and forth. At first, I was nervous to reach out and write to strangers—what would I say? Would we have anything in common? Does anyone really want to get a letter from me?
so we could all be up to date on each other's lives. In April, I also had the opportunity to help facilitate a fundraiser to raise shipping costs for roughly 98 books donated through World Book Night to send to Black and Pink prisoners in solitary confinement. (World Book Night is held each year in April; volunteers across the country donate a total of half a million books within their communities to those who don’t regularly read.) We partnered with a local bookstore and cafe, Bestseller's Cafe in Medford, Massachusetts,
"Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and ‘free world’ allies who support each other." Black and Pink's mission statement says, "Black & Pink is an open family of LGBTQ prisoners and ‘free world’ allies who support each other," and I believe that this is exemplified in the pen pal relationships. All three of the people I write to are actually from the part of the country I used to call home, so a lot of our conversations include reminiscing about different places such as restaurants and nature. We also exchange recipes. The support offered goes two ways. Last April in Boston was a strange place to be for me in a lot of ways. Along with the tragedy of the marathon bombings and stress of the subsequent man hunt, my partner and I were planning to move across the country in May and were actively finishing up graduate school. My pen pals provided a lot of support and encouragement during that time, and I wished there was a way I could communicate with them faster
to both acquire the donated books and to host our fundraiser. At the end of the day we had raised $187.50 to help cover the postage of shipping the books. My partner and I successfully moved to Boise, Idaho this May. We are in the process of starting a new chapter of Black and Pink out here, and are actively seeking new members to help with mail processing, letter writing, and forging connections to Idaho organizations that can provide resources to LGBTQ prisoners.
ELIZABETH MORK is a new resident of Boise, Idaho, having relocated from Boston, where she attended First Church Somerville, UCC. Elizabeth is excited to continue the work of solidarity and building connections in her new home.
The BurdenonWomen Sandra Sorenson
On September 12 last year, I got arrested on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I joined more than one hundred other women—including 20 undocumented women—as part of the We Belong Together Campaign (Women for Common Sense Immigration Reform). Our purpose was to bring attention to our nation's horrendously unjust immigration system. Religious leaders from across the country have been calling on Congress to pass just immigration reform, but few have recognized immigration as a women’s issue. Women bear the burden of a failed immigration system, but the struggle of immigrant women often goes unseen. Every day they are the ones taking care of business: looking after the elderly and our children, working to support our families and contributing to our congregations and communities. As a woman faith leader, I’m aware how often women go unseen, but I’m proud that the United Church of Christ has always been a leader in women’s rights. Now we are committing to work for immigrant justice through engaging our congregations to advocate and build more inclusive and welcoming communities. Last fall, we continued our role as leaders in prophetic action by participating together with leaders from the Unitarian Universalist Association, the National Council for Jewish Women and others in a non-violent civil disobedience in solidarity with 20 undocumented women. We decided to risk arrest to tell the House of Representatives at this critical moment to keep immigration at the top of their agenda and pass immigration reform that reunites separated families and creates an inclusive pathway to
citizenship for our undocumented community members. Many of our United Church of Christ pastors and lay leaders serve these families that have been torn apart by detention and deportation. Under the Obama administration, we have seen more than 1.4 million deportations. Every day, mothers are being ripped away from their citizen children. When deported, some women courageously try re-entering the country to reunite with their family at the risk of abuse and rape in the desert. The broader faith community continues to escalate our efforts to achieve immigrants' rights. Last fall, the United Church of Christ joined the Interfaith Immigration Coalition in 40 days of prayer and fasting for immigration reform. I am committed—and I would ask you to join me—to a different type of fast, as described in Isaiah 58:6: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
SANDRA SORENSON is the Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the United Church of Christ’s Justice and Witness Ministries.
When deported, some women courageously try re-entering the country to reunite with their family at the risk of abuse and rape in the desert.
Recreational marijuana became legal in the State of Colorado on the first day of 2014 for those 21 and older. Other states, like Washington, are preparing to do the same. Is this just a further sign of the “moral decay” of American society, or can we say the legalization of marijuana can have a place in a Christian theology that values, instead of denigrates, the body?
A THEOLOGY Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite In “Marijuana: A Theology” (Huffington Post, Jan. 23, 2014), Susan Thistlethwaite addresses the legalization of marijuana and the issues it raises, both for individuals and the “social body.” This excerpt focuses on her thoughts related to the societal effects of legalization.
We might think primarily of the individual body and marijuana use, but first let us consider the social body and what will happen to our social body by legalizing marijuana.
Is this just a further sign of the “moral decay” of American society, or can we say the legalization of marijuana can have a place in a Christian theology that values, instead of denigrates, the body? Our social body is currently deformed, almost beyond recognition as a developed democracy, by the huge numbers of Americans in jail, many of them there for non-violent drug offenses. The so-called “war on drugs” begun in the Nixon administration has been a trillion dollar failure. All it has done is explode the prison population to the point where in the United States the number of Americans incarcerated dwarfs that of other nations. Our national failure on drug policy is also racist. “Black men were more than six times as likely as white men to be incarcerated in federal and state prisons, and local jails in 2010,” according to the Pew Research Center.
The effects of this on our social body of families separated, and non-violent individuals exposed to the horrific conditions of our overcrowded prisons, cannot be exaggerated. From a body theology perspective, one thing we can say for certain is prison is very bad for your body. The American Journal of Public Health has published a study that shows a “two-year decline in life expectancy for every year served inside prison.” In fact, we could say our marijuana public policy in almost all states and at the federal level is a public health menace, and that makes it a theological menace, if we value the social body . . . . Our laws on marijuana need to reflect [the] common good. We should legalize recreational marijuana use at the federal level, keep it out of the hands of children and teenagers as we do with alcohol, and release those who have been incarcerated for using marijuana from all our overcrowded prisons. That is only common sense, and common sense is one of the best guides to morality.
REV. SUSAN BROOKS THISTLETHWAITE, Professor of Theology and former President of Chicago Theological Seminary, is a prolific writer and blogger on social, moral, political, and theological issues.
Where is the Justice? Donde está la justicia? Patricia Rumer
La mina extermina y contamina. / The mine pollutes and kills. It is a warm and humid Sunday afternoon in Guatemala. We are bumping along a back road to La Puya about an hour from the capital to an outdoor mass. We stop in the middle of the road surrounded by cars, buses, bicycles and people. There are colorful banners on the fence lining the road, children playing in the dirt and their parents sitting around on crates facing a makeshift altar. The priest announces that the mass will begin. The Salvadoran music group opens the service with a song of liberation: we are the people that look to build our liberation. The priest invites everyone to participate. “I am not going to give the homily; this is your mass so please come forward and share what is on your heart.” Why a mass in the middle of the road? In March 2012, the residents of two towns, San Jose del Golfo and San Pedoro Ayampuc, set up a camp blocking the entrance to a mining site. They have occupied the road 24/7 ever since to prevent the mining owners from sending trucks to the proposed new mine site. It is a non-violent peaceful protest. A community leader reminds the congregation: we have to resist our enemies in peace. Others call us to “see, judge and act,” but also to celebrate and give thanks no matter how desperate the circumstances. The mining site is owned by a U.S. engineering company, Kappes Cassiday and Associates, based in Nevada. Yolanda Oqueli is the leader of the resistance community. In June 2012, there was an assassination
T H R E E S T O R I E S O F C O U R A G E O U S WOMEN IN GUATEMAL A
attempt on her life. She is a mother with two small children and a business owner. She joined the resistance to the proposed mine when she learned about the damage mining does to the water and land. She tells us, “I attended a workshop on Gandhian non-violent resistance and was convinced this is how my community should respond. We established the camp site and we have been here ever since.” One day when the women of the community were guarding the road, the police came to break up the rally. “We women began to pray, to sing the national anthem and finally we threw ourselves on the ground,” Yolanda says. “The police did not know what to do with us so they left. We chanted as they left—La mina extermina y contamina [The mine pollutes and kills]—that is why we resist the mining company.” Rosa Montero, a journalist, describes the important role of women’s leadership in this justice movement: When it gets worse, when the situation is so desperate and so unbearable that you can’t ask the heroes to be heroes, when all resistance is suicide, then, just then, finally, on the edge of annihilation, it is mostly women who take a step forward.
No se vende madre tierra. / We will not sell mother earth. Women, both indigenous and non-indigenous—are the leaders in the human rights and environmental justice struggles in Guatemala. Guatemala is a beautiful country with volcanoes, lakes and a ridge of mountains that
La mina extermina y contamina “The police did not know what to do with us so they left. We chanted as they left—La mina extermina y contamina [The mine pollutes and kills]— that is why we resist the mining company.”
Celebration of Mass in La Puya
Women’s Resistance Banner
Banner on display during La Puya Mass.
divides the country from the Caribbean and the Pacific. It is just south of Mexico. The majority of the indigenous people are Maya. Guatemalans suffered through a violent civil war, from the early 1970s to mid-1990’s, which killed 200,000 civilians and displaced one million people. The war ended officially in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords between the Guatemalan government and the political and armed opposition. A delegation of nine women from the United States spent a week last August listening to various human rights organizations working on issues of environmental justice and sexual violence. These issues are interconnected. Rape was used to silence women in the civil war and is still used to intimidate women and their families. A Canadian company, Hudbay Minerals, is being sued by Mayan Q’eqchi’ plaintiffs for gang rapes of women by their security guards that occurred near El Estor, Izabal in 2011. A recent decision in the Canadian courts has found the company liable for the actions of the Guatemalan subsidiary that used these tactics to remove the families from the mining site. “It feels as if our country is up for sale,” says Lolita Chavez, organizer and spokesperson for the K’iche People’s Council (CPK). Women environmental leaders are threatened and denounced for their organized opposition to hydroelectric dams and mining leases. Lolita Chavez and other council members welcome us in the regional capital, Santa Cruz del Quiche. We begin with a prayer service to the K’iche’ deity, Chac, who brings rain and protects water, air and corn/milpa. The CPK is a grassroots movement to stop mining on their lands in the Quiche region. It has organized 87 community forums to discuss the government-backed mining initiatives. Nearly 100% of the 27,000
Street scene in Nebaj. Common Lot
TAKE ACTION HERE ARE SOME ACTIONS THAT EACH OF US CAN TAKE TO WALK WITH THE WOMEN OF GUATEMALA AND TO ENSURE THAT OUR EYES, EARS, HANDS AND MOUTH SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR LIVES AS WELL AS OUR OWN. I INVITE YOU TO JOIN WITH ME AND OTHERS IN OUR COUNTRY TO TAKE ACTION NOW. Congress to maintain military 1 Urge aid ban. U.S. mining investments in 2 Monitor and impact on Guatemala. Support the peaceful resistance at La Puya by writing to the mining company, Kappes Cassiday and Associates, at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell them to stop their efforts to build a mine. Make it clear that any violence against the protesters is a call to action in the U.S. You can also buy stock in the company so you can bring the issue up at a stockholder meeting.
Press the U.S. Embassy to be more proactive in defending Guatemala human rights activists and rule of law. Check to see if your Congress person or Senator is on Appropriations, Armed Services or Western Hemisphere subcommittee of Foreign Relations that has oversight on funding for Guatemala.
a Guatemalan Network: 4 Join Guatemala Human Rights Commission, www.ghrc-usa.com, NISGUA, Rights Action, or a national church network active on Guatemalan issues.
participants are opposed to the mining and hydroelectric projects in their territories. In addition, over a million Guatemalans in a community referendum voted “No” to mining projects. Lolita says, “Our movement is based on ancestral principles of equilibrium and reciprocity that promote respect for Mother Nature and all living things.” Despite international and national laws that prohibit development of indigenous lands without full consultation, the Guatemalan government refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the referenda and continues to development of indigenous lands without full consultation, the Guatemalan government refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the referenda and continues to deny indigenous peoples’ rights to consultation. The Guatemalan government is increasingly criminalizing land defenders and Lolita is under a “precautionary measure” from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which means that the Guatemalan government is responsible for her safety.
Juana fled to the mountains with her in-laws and children after this frightening encounter. “We took a little food but were too scared to wait for their return. So we ran. From our hiding place in the mountains, we saw more fires as soldiers burned our houses. We moved higher up the mountains. Days passed.” Juana grew sadder as she told of watching her infant and two small children slowly dying because there was no food. “It was unbearable but I did not know what to do. We ate berries and tore up roots but we were always hungry. I survived but my children didn’t.” She asks: “During this war what crimes did little children commit? How can the army kill people? Why did they leave us without anything—land, food, house, animals? We want to know why. The soldiers’ cruel and inhumane treatment is what I feel in my body and my heart. We are still living
The next woman, Anna, was very short and small. Anna spoke in Ixil through a translator. Although I do not understand Ixil, her voice and physical gestures transcended language. She shook her hand violently: “Do this, tell me that, don’t lie to me.” It was as if the soldier was living inside of her. She re-enacted the scene. She was pregnant but the soldiers threw her repeatedly to the floor. She trembled as she spoke but her voice was strong as she recreated this nightmare. At the end of each of the testimonies the same question is asked: “Where is justice? Yes, ‘he’ [Rios Montt] was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, but he is not in jail. He is in his home with family and food and still has power. Whereas we have no land as the military gave it to other families, our houses were burned and many of us are widows without any income.”
Through their stories—their truth-telling—they were reliving the trauma of the civil war thirty years ago. They are still waiting for justice. with that fear.” Angry and discouraged she stated, “My testimony is not worth anything!” Cecilia, a younger Ixil woman, wept uncontrollably as she began to share her story:
Ixil delegation working to combat violence against women.
Lolita and the other CPK members are inspiring in their struggles. Organizing in Guatemala is dangerous but the K’iche’ people want to protect the earth and water. “Water has spirit,” they say, “so we must protect it.” Their final words are: “No se vende madre tierra—We will not sell mother earth.”
“My testimony is not worth anything!” We travel by bus to Nebaj in the Ixil Triangle where we meet with survivors who testified at the Rios Montt trial. Rios Montt was a dictator in power for 17 months in 1982-83. During that time, 1,771 indigenous Mayans were killed and some 29,000 displaced in a scorched-earth strategy designed to destroy the Ixil communities once and for all. This was the most challenging and painful day as we listened to the testimonies from five women survivors. Juana, a survivor of the Rios Montt military attacks on her village describes the day that the soldiers arrived: “Where is your husband? He’s a guerrilla, isn’t he?” I was confused and frightened. I said he’s in the cornfield, I don’t know anything about guerrillas. They insisted over and over that I tell them about the guerrillas. We are hardworking farmers and don’t have time for anything else.
They yelled at me—where is your husband? Is he with the guerrillas? Then they began to beat and cut me— see, look at my head, where they stabbed me. Then one after another of the men raped me, I don’t remember how many but my body hurt from these attacks. Next they put needles under my fingernails—always demanding to know if I knew any guerrillas. Finally, they left me alone with my shame and broken body. Then she describes how the soldiers covered her small daughter’s mouth, nose and eyes with a blanket to suffocate her. None of us in that room could hold back the tears. Heart-wrenching sobs came from me as I could feel her pain. “Dios mio,” she pleaded with the soldiers, “don’t hurt my daughter.” I cry because I remember. I want others to remember. I am not the only one who cries. I have recovered but not my daughter. When I give testimony, I remember everything in my heart and will never forget. Please share our testimony and stories with others. We know that God will not abandon us. We pray that the Guatemalan government will respect our rights as survivors and that these military attacks will not happen again. For God’s sake, tell your government not to send military aid as it only leads to more killings.
The women were frustrated, angry and in pain, reliving the horrors of the war. Hearing the women’s testimony was hard—for them and for us. Through their stories—their truth-telling—they were reliving the trauma of the civil war thirty years ago. They are still waiting for justice. What do they ask? We want you to be our spokes-people. “Join us as truth tellers and share our stories and insist on justice for us and for all of Guatemala.” It is time to break the cycle of violence in Guatemala. Their tears, their stories, their regal bearing, the tissues dabbed at their eyes, the way they cover their mouths to hide their feelings—all of these tense, dark feelings were in this room with the five Ixil women telling their truths to nine women from North America. We were there to listen and to feel the dolor/pain but also to witness to the strength and courage of these indigenous women who spoke out—breaking community taboos when they spoke of rape and loss. Oh my God, the losses they have suffered, I think. A human rights worker, Sandra shared a word of hope: “The people’s strength in Guatemala is increasing. They have the spirit and strength to defend their land; people act on sadness, but on joy too. We are not overcome. We are rising, especially young women.” PATRICIA RUMER, a former Latin America, Caribbean Secretary for the UCC has been involved with the Guatemalan people since 1969. She is an active member of Ainsworth UCC in Portland, Ore.
Lydia’s House: Abiding with God in the Everyday Michelle Torigian
“Where did you see God this week?” It was with this question that Rev. Carolyn Held, chaplain at Lydia’s House, started our weekly hour of theological reflection. I was a first-year student at Eden Seminary, and Lydia’s House was my contextual education placement. As we sat down for this time of reflection, my mind was terribly distracted by the assignments that were due later in the week. But this question and my time with Carolyn directed me back to the essence of my calling, to the presence of God here and now, and to set aside anything else. It reminded me of being fully present in ministry, no matter where I was serving or what actions I was called to do, whether I was completing an art project with the younger residents at Lydia’s House or having a casual conversation with one of the residents at dinner. And that is how Carolyn and others at Lydia’s House spread the good news of Jesus the Christ. Called by God, four women, including three UCC pastors, began investigating needs for women and children who had experienced domestic violence. As 60 to 90 days wasn’t enough time for a women to support herself after leaving a violent situation, the founders realized that longer periods of time were needed to heal, plan for a future, explore education and find a job. Lydia’s House officially formed in 1995 as a place for women and their children to strengthen in body, mind and soul before supporting themselves. While housing is in
confidential locations, the organization helps women from all over the Greater St. Louis area. The services this organization offers go well beyond housing. Each Wednesday evening, the women come together to eat dinners prepared by churches. They offer after-school activities as well as summer activities for the youth. Staff leads weekly support groups for the women and school-age children. Carolyn facilitates a weekly spiritual group for the women and a bi-weekly teen group. Lately, Carolyn and I have connected once again and have been talking about her experiences as chaplain at Lydia’s House. While she offers formal spiritual experiences for the residents and opens her door for them to sit and converse, her most common ministry effort is helping women with day-to-day activities. “Many of these women have no family or support system,” she told to me. Without such support, they haven’t had the opportunity to learn basic life skills, such as household and car Common Lot
maintenance. In helping a resident to set up her computer or teaching someone how to use a tire gauge, Carolyn could be the embodiment of Christ. For Carolyn, her mission is bringing Christ’s hospitality to these residents in moments that seem insignificant or in ways taken for granted by many of us. Through the staff and volunteers responding to this call and bringing forth unconditional love, the residents see the presence of God in their midst. Before she came to Lydia’s House, Priscilla* prematurely gave birth to twins. During her stay, Priscilla lost one of these children. Being from Nigeria and having no other family for support, “I didn’t think I’d survive,” she told to me.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.”
In Priscilla’s time of grief, Carolyn and the staff at Lydia’s House were able to help her arrange for the child’s burial as well as assist her with household chores and meal preparation. “They acted like my mother,” she said. For Priscilla, their role was “like God’s,” as they were God’s hands and feet for her in a devastating time. At the same time,their actions in her life helped her to feel that they saw the presence of God within her as well. Now, Priscilla, a former resident and nursing student, is inspired to “Live a life where people see God in me, helping wherever I can.” God’s call to serve the women and children of Lydia’s House spreads to churches around the St. Louis area. I spoke with Krescene Beck, a member of Immanuel UCC in Ferguson, Missouri. Not only does her church donate items throughout the year that the families can use, members of the church also contribute meals to the Wednesday night community dinners. Krescene says, “One of the ways that we share love is through food.” I recall through my time ministering at Lydia’s House that God’s love is truly shared there through meals: in the preparation by churches,
in the serving by volunteers, and by staff and residents who break bread together. Jesus the Christ brought the presence of God to many as he healed those who were sick, fed the multitudes, and provided hospitality at his friend’s wedding in Cana. Through practical actions, those who followed him were able to experience the presence of God in Jesus and through his new movement. In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo writes, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Jesus presented that love to all who followed, and we are called to carry that love into the world. As I experienced in my time as student chaplain at Lydia’s House, being present and sharing love with those around us meant seeing God’s face in and revealing God's face to others.
CAFÉ 361:SERVING UP HEAPING PLATES OF
Additionally, I saw how ushering in the presence of God was greater than formal worship or structured spiritual activities. As most of us celebrate God through worship each week, many worship God in the small moments of the everyday. Carolyn, the staff, volunteers and residents taught me that ministry happens in the crevices of life. Moments that seemed mundane now appeared holy. Sometimes, as a person involved in ministry, it’s tough to see the results. Whether we are ordained, licensed, commissioned or lay ministers, much of our work can’t be measured by numbers. Yet through the works of Jesus and the ministry of Lydia’s House, we can see that the experiences of formal worship, hands-on everyday activities, and laughter in fellowship are all ways we see God on our journey.
MICHELLE TORIGIAN is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Laurie Bartels *As this is a former resident of Lydia’s House, only the first name is used.
There is a lot of wisdom that gets passed around a kitchen table along with recipes for Mom’s homemade cobbler and Dad’s barbecue sauce. For a group of young women in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, those recipes include increasing confidence, making friends, and strengthening relationships—all while learning how to cook. The path to their culinary connection began in the summer of 2013 when the girls took part in Boys and Girls Club meetings at First Congregational UCC in Cedar Rapids. As the summer program came to an end, the 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls brainstormed with church members to find a way to stay connected. They decided to get together periodically for an afternoon of cooking. From that humble beginning, Café 361— named for the church’s address—was born. “We wanted to give the girls an opportunity to stay together,” said Heather Woodin, First Congregational’s director of Ministries for Children, Youth and Families. “Middle school can be such a tough time.” Having an all-girls group was also part of the plan, Woodin said. “Boys in the mix changes everything.” Currently, there are about 15 middle school girls who come to the church on Wednesdays when Cedar Rapids schools are dismissed early—generally two Wednesdays per month. After the group gathers for a quick snack and to discuss the menu, they break into small groups with an adult team leader and start preparing a themed meal for 50 guests—some of whom are invited by the girls, such as their teachers and family, and others who come from the church and surrounding community. All guests are required to call ahead for reservations. In addition to cooking, preparation includes setting the tables, decorating with theme-appropriate center pieces and deciding who will greet their guests, who will announce the evening’s menu, who will serve and who will say a prayer of blessing. Themes have included a Hawaiian luau, a country French meal, and a soup supper where guests helped themselves to a soup bar. The café is a smorgasbord in every sense of the word— from the meals the girls cook, to the schools they attend, to the family situations and backgrounds of each young chef. Most live in the Wellington Heights neighborhood of Cedar Rapids, an area that serves free or reduced lunches to more than 90 percent of elementary school students. The neighborhood’s only grocery store ranks
second of about 300 stores in the grocery chain for federal food aid spent in the store. Heather Woodin wants Café 361 to help the student chefs find ways to break the cycle of poverty and lack of education that surrounds them; learn about world hunger; explore what it means to be a disciple as they serve others; and follow Jesus’ commandment to “Feed my sheep.” Along the way, the girls are becoming more confident and have gained a sense of belonging. “Before Café 361, I would get mad easily and not get along with people. I learned to be kind and helpful. You need to be respectful,” said Diamond Roundtree, a 12year old 6th grade participant. “After my first day here I felt like I knew them [other Café 361 chefs] my whole life.” Mariah Hopkins, a 7th grade Café chef, agrees. “I’m thankful for all my friends here. Nothing is more cherished than friends.” While some of the girls knew each other before their participation in Café 361, most did not. None of them are members of the church (which is not a requirement of the program) but all now share a bond that was created in the kitchen at First Congregational. The girls are now such a cohesive group, “it’s almost impossible to tell who knew each other before,” Woodin admits. “Session to session, I’ve seen their confidence grow. In the beginning they used to negotiate about who would have to talk to our guests. They’re not intimidated anymore.” Each time, the chefs are lined up at the front of the dining room and tell the guests their name, grade and age. During dinner, they sit down at the tables and interact with the guests, who are encouraged to ask questions about the food preparation and what part they play in the process. The girls know how to hold a conversation and keep it going, Woodin said. They’ve learned, for example, not to ask yes or no questions if they want the conversation to be lively and last more
than a minute. The suggested donation for each guest is $3, which does not quite cover the cost of the program. “But some people are generous and give more,” Woodin said, “and church members and friends have given us start-up money.” A Neighbors In Need grant of $1,200 from the United Church of Christ has helped as well. The café has been blessed with dedicated volunteers like Cindy Nicholson, a church member who has been there since the beginning, and Tess Romanski, a FoodCorps Service Member at the Linn County (Cedar Rapids) office of the Iowa State Extension Service. “Time With Tess” is a staple during food preparation at the cafe when Tess discusses topics such as knife safety, proper hand-washing technique, and even gives geography lessons about food traditions around the world. As the group looks to the future of their ministry, one thing that has already been planned for the chefs is an end-of-the-year
The café is a smorgasbord in every sense of the word — from the meals the girls cook, to the schools they attend. trip—a combination of a reward and a mission trip—to Omaha. Woodin was very impressed with the non-profit opportunities and the diversity she saw in Omaha during a church mission trip there in 2013. She wants to take 10 or 12 girls— the ones who have been committed to Café 361 and attended all the sessions—to Omaha to volunteer and to expand their experiences. Janelle Corporon, a 6th grade participant, is looking forward to it. “We’ll be staying at a Boys and Girls Club there and we’ll meet new people,” she said. “I’m looking forward to cooking for a new community.” Woodin is optimistic about the future of Café 361 and the growth she has seen in the young girls who gather in the church kitchen twice a month. “It has been a blessing to watch God at work in this program and to see where God may be leading us.”
LAURIE BARTELS is a freelance writer living in Rocky River, Ohio. In addition to writing, she enjoys cooking up feasts for her husband, Brian, and children, Olivia, Chelsea and Russell.
I am honored to serve a dying church… a new-church-start only three years old, that won’t “make it,” a church crucified for its justice stance,
but made all the difference in twenty lives.
risky mission, weddings, I am honored to serve a dying church a church table up-turning dumb in its disregard for a balanced budget,
one that learns “good-bye,” saints some miracles with old endowments –
a church that gives a quiet environment
saves an immigrant church,
to the three kids
even if it’s not “our” denomination,
who would be lost
funds a clinic,
in a stimulating faith formation,
a scholarship, a street ministry,
delighted to treasure the memories of elders
cracks jokes that that food will be divine
patient with old hymns,
when the sanctuary is a restaurant.
stubborn about adopting new technology,
but so kind and personal with those
always thought the pastor’s study
who wander in
could use some … plumbing,
down on their luck, a church that made a couple bad matches
waits for one funeral, two or three gathered … but not alone.
in leadership, built a new wing or didn’t, just couldn’t de-fuse that tough personality because they knew she was abused, he has cancer …
MAREN TIRABASSI is the Pastor of Union Congregational Church UCC in Madbury, New Hampshire. She is the author or editor of 18 books, most recently From the Psalms to the Cloud—Prayers for a Digital Age, co-authored by her daughter Maria I.T. Mankin.
Author’s note: I don’t currently serve a dying church, but a very small one— only five pews deep and forty-five members and it keeps us always aware of the fragility of our churching, and that it is really “OK.” I honor so many churches who have died with grace and love and am grateful for Paul Nixon’s series of insightful books (I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church! and We Refused to Lead a Dying Church: Churches that Came Back Against All Odds).
Would I Be Welcome There Now? D
They say the places of your childhood never leave your dreams. I dream of the long, tall house on North Street in Portsmouth, Virginia. I look down and see the brick sidewalks disturbed by tree roots. I cross the street and pass my daddy's law office. Ahead lies the rose stone castle I love, Court Street Baptist Church. My mother's side of the family could testify to more than a century of sitting in the curved pews, dappled by light streaming through stained-glass windows. In my baby book is a certificate marking my entry on the Cradle Roll. As a tiny girl, I aspired to climb the stairs to the balcony, a rite of passage for children old enough to sing “O, Come All Ye Faithful” in the Christmas pageant procession, winding through the sanctuary with our electric candles.
I learned the next lesson from Mrs. Kersey, the minister’s wife, in Vacation Bible School. The story starred a man too ill to walk by himself, and the friends who made up their minds to get him to Jesus. Their faith felt as palpable as the paper model we built of the house where Jesus ate dinner and the popsicle stick stretcher used to carry their dear friend to him. The crowded house did not stop them. They climbed to the roof and lowered him straight to Jesus. I can feel the string in my fingers. As a teenager, I watched and listened to an admired older classmate, daughter of the
My theology rests on things I learned there. The minister's son was just my age—we had the exact same birthday! I dreamed he would grow up to be a minister, like his daddy, and I would be the minister's wife. Decades passed before I learned a woman could be a minister herself. My new church home was in the United Church of Christ, and the young woman serving as Associate Pastor had grown up Southern Baptist, like me. While the rest of the mainline Protestant world began to welcome women, the way to the pulpit became more fiercely barred in the church of our childhood. I still dream about climbing the dark-stained stairs to reach the balcony, encased in the Romanesque bell tower reaching to the sky and pointing to God's glory. I dream about churches a lot, mostly the classic anxiety dreams of a preacher: the wrong church, the wrong time, or no sermon prepared. I never have that kind of dream about Court Street. Even in the deep, unconscious places, I know the barriers between us. I am an ordained woman, and I am a minister’s wife, and she is my wife, too. Would I be welcome there now? Could I come back, a child formed in that church, and offer them a good word? I would say yes to the invitation, if it ever came. I would want them to know that my theology rests on things I learned there. I would want them to know I’ve never forgotten my first teacher, Mrs. Harrison, or the kindness of her smile. Every Sunday, dressed in the sheath dresses and high heels of the 1960s, she perched on tiny chairs with the tiny children. She told us the first things we would remember about Jesus. Her face shone when she sang with us, “Little ones to Him belong.”
same minister, argue with our Sunday School teachers about the ninety-nine sheep. Why should Jesus go after the one who ran away? What about good sheep; what about us? Didn’t we count for anything? I can feel her anger and the cooling balm of patience applied by Mr. Benn and Mrs. Lane. My subconscious won’t take me there, but in my waking dreams, I walk up the stone steps in front of Court Street Baptist Church. I turn the brass knob on the heavy mahogany door and go inside. The congregation waits in the rose light. Wherever I go, I tell them, I share the good news I learned from you: Jesus loves us; faithful people can do amazing things together; and no question is too dangerous to ask. We are more alike than different, each of us among the familiar ninety-nine, every one of us taking a turn as the lost. The curves of the well-remembered architecture reveal the curves of God’s embrace, confident and expansive, with room enough for all.
MARTHA SPONG is a UCC pastor and director of RevGalBlogPals, an ecumenical ministry providing support and resources to clergywomen. She blogs at Reflectionary.
I know the barriers between us. I am an ordained woman, and I am a minister’s wife, and she is my wife, too.
“Some non-violent struggles actually ” .
- Patricia Rumer, on the news received Feb. 26 that the people of La Puya, Guatemala are celebrating the removal of mining equipment from a proposed site in their community. Contractors will pull out all of the trucks and heavy machinery that was left inside the mine when families began their peaceful resistance nearly two years ago.
“We are more ALIKE than DIFFERENT, each of
nninety-nine, every one nof us taking a turn as THE LOST.”n
us among the familiar
THE MAJORITY OF WOMEN PRISONERS ARE INCARCERATED FOR NON-VIOLENT CRIMES SUCH AS PROSTITUTION, FRAUD, OR DRUG OFFENSES. ACLU, “Words from Prison: Did You Know?”
of the in-home careworker workforce (home health aides, elder care, care of the disabled) is made up of
IMMIGRANT WOMEN. It’s estimated that one in five are UNDOCUMENTED. Institute for Women’s Policy Research
“We are all capable of
IMPROVING OUR LIFE STORY when other people listen to us and care about the stories we tell.
EVEN IN JAIL, THE WOMEN ARE SET FREE.” -Elaine Blanchard, on the women in her writing classes held at the Shelby County Jail for Women in Memphis, Tennessee.
70f 1.3 %
of women in prison or under correctional supervision are MOTHERS.
CHILDREN are affected. Department of Justice, quoted on CNN
“Corrections Corporation of America and other private prison companies motivated by higher profit margins have lobbied for mandatory minimums, ‘three-strike’ laws, and ‘truth-in-sentencing’ laws that drive up the prison population.
Thus, one person’s incarceration— their ruined life— is another person’s livelihood. THIS IS OBSCENE. Michael Shammus, Harvard Law School student, in “End the Prison-Industrial Complex,” Huffington Post, Jan. 10, 2014.
fgggggg20lives.” “ . . . a new-church-start only 3 years old, that won’t ‘make it,’ but made all the difference in Maren Tirabassi, “i am honored to serve a dying church...”
CommonLot United Church of Christ 700 Prospect Avenue E Cleveland, Ohio 44115-1100
A journal for women in the United Church of Christ. In this issue: Telling their truth: Stories from Prison