Westminster church currently has two service opportunities with Habitat for Humanity. Our crew of builders meets on the second Saturday of the month to work on homes in various stages of construction. Habitat’s model of late is to build clusters of duplexes and even six-plexes in Charlottesville, to help with land acquisition costs and promote in-fill. Currently the building activity is located at Harmony Ridge, off 5th Street South, where ten families will move in later this fall.
The builders partner with other Presbyterian congregations in the area to form a group of typically 15 workers. Thanks to Westminster’s builders within the past year: Aurora Nichols, John Kleinschmidt, Ron Wiley, Noah Oakland, Winston Harmon, Colin Lee, Sage Bradburn, and Steve Wilson. Contact Steve if interested in participating.
At the same time, Westminster is hosting Community Conversations, a monthly community-building effort with the families that will occupy the homes of Harmony Ridge. Billie Best coordinates a meal for the 60 some Habitat families, Habitat staff, and volunteers who gather. After dinner, the adults work with staff members to create a shared set of values for the new neighborhood. Lucy Burnette and Carolyn Brown lead activities designed to help children become friends before they become neighbors. And, Kathy Stacy heads up child care for the youngest. Over 25 Westminster folks join these four to form a caring loving team. Thank you to all!
On a recent rainy afternoon, many gathered in the Rotunda to celebrate the emancipation of 14,000 enslaved people of a total population of 27,000 in Charlottesville and Albemarle County after the Civil War Rio Hill skirmish and surrender. We were celebrating Liberation and Freedom Day on March 3rd, 2019 with those who are descendants from the enslaved laborers who build the university, ministers, choir group, University architect, Board of Visitors member, faculty, staff and alumni and individuals from the community.
The choir was heartwarming with their message that no one can hold you down and you can make a difference, contribute and each have a valuable life. And James Murray, Vice Rector, told us that the child had been born at the hospital that day and he referred to the child as Hope. He laid out by stages of life what we as a community and the university together could do to give this child and every child here opportunities for a full and rich life. What an empowering proposal for us to work together to make happen in our lives and for the futures of our children.
We also learned of some of the realities of being a in slave labor. That the Rotunda itself took more than 1 million bricks to dig, form, bake, move, and build. And we learned that some of those bricks were made by children because their handprints are still in the bricks. We now have a commemorative vial of soil perfect for making bricks from the construction site marked with the date of the ceremony and the outline of the Memorial.
On site of the memorial one can see a sample slab. Only about 1/4 or so of the enslaved laborers is known their occupation or their name and the rest are slashes, like slashes from a whip as a line for each person. It is stunning.
Westminster Presbyterian Church last year made a gift of $2,000 toward the construction of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. This represents our church’s continued commitment both to the causes of justice within our community and to our ministry to the University of Virginia. This site is important to the community’s and to the University’s ongoing reflection on its past, actions and building stronger relationships going forward.
I personally have been watching the progress on the Memorial as I walk to work each day and looking forward to its completion. The university is also planning a dedication ceremony for the completed project in Spring 2020. I hope you will join in that celebration.
Benevolence and Mission Endowment Committee
Every other month, Westminster and the Presbytery of the James invite you to give five cents for each meal you enjoy to relieve hunger locally and globally. A small amount from each of us creates big change. In 2018 congregations in this Presbytery contributed $68,153 to the Hunger Ministry. On Sunday, March 31, an offering will be received during worship with the proceeds going to our support food relief for our neighbors locally and those across the world.
The majority of funds distributed provide emergency food relief to people in need. These include emergency food centers; school backpack programs, and county food pantries. Other funds support efforts to eliminate the causes of hunger, such as agricultural training so that recipients can become self-sufficient.
A small portion of donations support advocacy groups. Bread for the World, a faith-based network, campaigns nationally for policy change. Locally, Virginia Hunger Solutions works to improve food security through state programs and improved policy.
These are some of the programs you support through the Hunger Offering:
- Advocacy efforts to improve access to free breakfast and lunch programs for Virginia schools
- Community grain banks for food security in Cameroon
- Seeds for farmers in Haiti following hurricanes
- Snacks to support education for child laborers in Guatemala
Westminster has gotten some Commonwealth-wide recognition! Virginia Interfaith Power & Light (VAIPL) is our state affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, which brings together faith communities to mobilize a religious response to climate change through energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. Recently, their news featured solar faith communities and congregations across the state, and Westminster was one of those featured. Click here and scroll down.