In the beginning it was a whisper, so fragile I was afraid giving voice to it might cause it to whoosh away, like Forrest’s feather.
MLK Day committee. Yellow Springs Pride. Black Lives Matter. As my faith-driven commitment to social justice intensified, so did my sense that God was leading me to a realization. I am not a pastor to a church. I am a pastor to a community. And not just Christians. Everyone who seeks me gets something, some response or commitment. Perhaps it is simply my presence during a difficult time; perhaps it is raising money to help pay a utility bill. Rushed weddings. Painful funerals. Trauma from abuse. PTSD.
When you love them, they will come.
First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs is a special place. The congregation is giving and hospitable, dedicated and intelligent. Small, but mighty. But small. With pocketbooks stretched to the limit, realities face the congregation. An aging building. An aging membership. New members who were not necessarily raised in the Church, and sometimes can give of time and talent, but not treasure.
And they have a pastor who is incredibly dedicated, but also in financial peril. With a breakup not even being an option, both FPCYS and I are working together to support one another and figure out our way forward. A responsible path that allows me a economically-just compensation while still securing the financial viability and future of a community that has existed uninterrupted since 1855. It is a heady time, but one about which I feel optimistic.
What started as a whisper is now being spoken in corridors that can make a difference. We have established community interest and participation; we have collaborated with a national organization (SURJ) to focus our intentional multifaith project; we have a Coordinating Committee; I have lined up a qualified Managing Director; and two grant proposals are in various stages of development. There are still major decisions to be made–is this a separate 501 (c)3 or an established ministry of FPCYS?–and specific inaugural events need final approval before they can be announced, but what I can reveal is our Mission Statement:
The Beloved Community Project of Yellow Springs (BCPYS) will focus on forming and sustaining an intentional multifaith collective, to include all faith traditions, atheists, agnostics, and nones; will provide educational workshops and book discussion groups aimed at analyzing systems and structures that keep us from the fullness of relationship; and will organize and/or participate in nonviolent actions that both facilitate speaking truth to power and involve the legal dismantling of systems or structures that oppress persons or communities.
As part of the Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) pilot program, our primary objectives for the first year will be:
- Designing, implementing, and enacting a plan for a multifaith liturgia (literally: “work of the people”) with music, art, poetry, scripture, meditation, readings, and/or food.
- Organizing and implementing either a book discussion group (with an emphasis on White privilege) or a workshop series with specific objectives and materials. This is based upon the feedback we received from the initial open meeting.
- To capitalize on existing relationships with area organizations and individuals to create a multi-level “rapid response” team that can coordinate nonviolent actions and protests, can mobilize people to engage in letter-writing campaigns, petitioning, and/or visits to legislative offices to affect policy and law in ways that express solidarity with the oppressed.
I will write more fully about the liturgia in the next entry; let me just say, what we are looking to create will be unlike anything in the area right now, but will in no way compete with already established religious communities. With that said, we are building a truly intentional and invitational multifaith community that will include atheists, agnostics, and nones. This is foundational to the mission of the BCPYS. Spirituality does not require theism, but theism requires spirituality. I remain deeply rooted in my Christian confession; but I am secure enough in that to be in community with people who may regard my beliefs as ridiculous, but who love me anyway and want to work together to serve the community.
That, dearly beloved, is what’s going on in my world. If you would, please like us on Facebook.
Now, rock out.