When I retired to this area in 2011 to be near our grandchildren, I was more or less a church dropout, which is an odd thing for someone who had been an ordained Presbyterian minister, hospital chaplain and pastoral counselor for the last 30 years to say! I was weary of a Presbyterian Church that seemed more worried about which people it was going to exclude from ordination and leadership than include, that held stubbornly to a patriarchal theology and the use of all-male language in worship, and which was, by the way, the most segregated hour of the week, and was so risk avoidant that we were called “God’s frozen chosen.” I wondered if the church could be relevant. But Dick Haines suggested I try Westminster.
So I did, and to my surprise, I found open-minded folk who were willing to tackle challenging ideas in a contemporary theology class, adult education classes that discussed the hard topics such as the legacy of racism in our community, and people who not only lived their faith in impressive vocations but risked living out their faith in action in the community. I found welcome rather than walls. I found open-hearted people rather than closed-off pew-dwellers. After Tracy Wispelway included me in the university mission group that went to the border to learn about migrants risking their lives to find a safe home, I knew I had found home again at Westminster, along with a fresh sense of purpose.
That sense of purpose at WPC can be seen in all the ministries and activities of what is now known as the Peace, Justice, and Inclusion Division. What do you do when you find home? You enlarge home, create home, sustain home, and welcome home those who are longing for it! WPC does this, literally, by building homes through Habitat, offering shelter on cold nights for the homeless through PACEM, working to sustain our planet home by the efforts of the Green Team, advocating for affordable housing through IMPACT and benevolences, supporting legal assistance to unaccompanied minors and parents separated from their children through LAJC, supporting Sin Barreras as it helps our immigrant community thrive, providing education and advocacy to protect our immigrant neighbors from discrimination, profiling, and arbitrary detention and deportation, through participation in the Charlottesville Immigrant Resource and Advocacy Coalition, and joining the Central Virginia Sanctuary Network to work for a safe home for those threatened with deportation. Just two weeks ago Maria, an indigenous woman from Guatemala whose home was set on fire, with her family in it, by gangs that wanted her land, asked for and found home, sanctuary, and safety at Wesley UMC, and WPC members are pitching in. It takes a village to save a life. Surely this is what “finding home” means!
And that’s not all. WPC supports programs that are working for the necessities for home – food and health. Food, through CROP walk, Emergency Food Bank, the Gleaning program, and the Presbyterian Food Offering. Global Health, through the Prosami program in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “Finding home” means standing with the LBGTQ community at the Pride Festival and sponsoring the conference on Caring for Transgender Persons this week – that all may be included in “home”; supporting the March for Our Lives kids and other programs to reduce gun violence – that all might have a safe home; and support for our local jail ministry – that incarcerated persons might one day return home – whole and restored.
You get the idea – what could be more relevant in the world than what WPC is up to in the world? This is the church – once you find home again, you open your doors and hearts and create, enlarge, and extend “home” – by offering generous welcome, sanctuary, safety, and peace. This is what your pledges and your involvement make possible! There is such great need for “home” in these times– join us in offering a generous welcome!
Gene Locke, Peace, Justice & Inclusion Committee