This week the adult choir helps to illumine the stewardship theme “Set the World on Fire,” with their anthem See the Holy Flame Arise, a setting of a Welsh melody arranged by Robert J. Powell. They will also sing a much loved piece A Vineyard Grows: Amid the World’s Bleak Wilderness, a setting of an English folk song arranged by K. Lee Scott. Winston Barham is our guest organist. He will play music by French composer Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676-1749) for all the solo organ music this week.
Over the weekend an anti-Semitic act of vandalism occurred at the Grand Marc apartment building complex where many students live. A star of David and the German word for “Jews” was spray painted at the entrance in yellow, a combination which was used to terrorize Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Many in the university community were quick to condemn the act and send notes of love and solidarity to the Jewish groups on grounds. The Student Council and Dean Groves also released statements.
This year I am honored to serve as President of United Ministries, the collegium of interfaith ministers serving the University of Virginia. We meet monthly and just last week were hosted by the Muslim Student Advisor, Aliaa Khidr, at the mosque downtown. Her students have also faced emboldened bigotry, especially young women in hijab, one of whom was threatened with violence while walking home. We spoke about how we might create more equity among our group as ministers, who are predominantly Christian and white. The group is deeply committed to this and I am glad to serve at Westminster, as we are deeply committed to this.
I also released a statement on behalf of UKirk, condemning these hateful acts, and I invite you all to join me in praying for our students and our community.
We stand with our Jewish brother and sisters. We are committed to living the action of love and calling out hatred, racism, anti-semitism, homophobia/transphobia and islamophobia. We lament the bodily and spiritual violence that U.Va. students have experienced this year. Living God, renew us in joy to know we are made in your image and held in your beloved-ness along with all our neighbors, colleagues, friends and those we find difficult to engage. May we live in the freedom and joy of your grace. May we create beauty in and with our community to make us resilient to hate and fear. Amen.
A few nights ago, NASA launched the Antares rocket from Wallops Island off the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia. I don’t really care about such things, but my husband does and he alerted me to the time of the launch, where visibility would be best and the precise location in the night sky where to turn my gaze.
Frankly, I didn’t pay attention. I was going to let this one pass.
Then at 7:35 PM, five minutes before lift off, my often prickly, rarely excited daughter called down from her room, “Mom, are you ready to go?” And so I put on my shoes and a jacket over my pjs, and headed outside to stand in the empty field across from my house and stare into the starry night.
For several moments, she and I stood silent, our heads back, taking in the vast expanse, sprinkled here and there with tiny dots of light. Some we decided were stars, others satellites or airplanes – none seemed to be the rocket.
Then, just as we turned to walk back inside, Anne exclaimed, “Look!” To our amazement, we saw the red glow of the launcher and then the afterglow of white as the rocket pulled away. We stood as Antares moved across the sky until our eyes could no longer see it.
As we stood on our porch, I realized the gift of the night watch. Even when we cannot see them, the stars and the rockets are shining brightly. When the darkness seems so present, when the shadows dim the light, and when our own inner gloom dulls life’s sparkle, I consider this good news – good news that is echoed in the gospel of John who reminds us that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.”
May God’s word be to you like a star (or rocket) in the night sky, giving off light, catching you by surprise and shining in the darkness.
Blessings – Lynne
Last week I preached on a passage in Jeremiah and the ongoing work of indigenous communities and activists to protect water here in Virginia, and in North Dakota. [Listen Here]. In the days to follow some of you shared with me your concern and activism in this area. I wanted to post some links and references from my sermon including the call to prayer that was issued. Though the time has passed, the prayers are undoubtedly still needed.
Right now, more than 4,000 people have gathered at the Camp of the Sacred Stones in North Dakota near the northern border of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation. The people, known now as “Water Protectors,” amassed in an effort to stop an oil company from piping crude oil underneath the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the tribe and US citizens across three states. This project is known as the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL).
Support for the tribe’s efforts has grown and now comes from tribes and peoples across the country and internationally, as well as individuals and groups concerned for issues raised by the DAPL, including the Native American Student Union at U.Va. who convened a gathering and march in downtown Charlottesville.
The Presbyterian churches in North Dakota have been helping to sustain the resistance, by gathering supplies and preparing food for the water protectors. As the witness continues, the Oceti Sakowin, Dakota Nation, also known as the Sioux Nation, has issued a call to prayer for today, October 8 through the 11th. The PC(USA) and other Christian denominations have already released statements of solidarity with the water protectors.
Now, in response to the situation at Standing Rock and other current instances of racial injustice, the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns has issued a statement urging “our church and all of its members, but especially those who are white, to join us in breaking silence. Commit with us to raise our collective voice not just to proclaim the good news of God’s grace but to call out injustice, to call out the forces that threaten to tear us apart with xenophobic [and racist] rhetoric.”
The call to prayer is for:
- The earth and all the resources the Creator has provided;
- Wisdom, courage, and strength for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and for its Chairman David Archambault and his family;
- Strength and courage for the Water Protectors and their families;
- Peace and unity at the camps;
- The provision of food, water, and shelter and the meeting of other needs for the Water Protectors, particularly those who plan to witness in winter;
- Wisdom and vision for the people working on the legal battles being fought to halt this pipeline and to honor the sovereignty of Native peoples;
- Patience and a willingness to rely on nonviolence for the government and corporate authorities involved; and
- The leaders of the Synod of Lakes & Prairies as they collect and discern where to use funds for the camps and the Water Protectors.
Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey was published in the Presbyterian Outlook, contributing a feature article in the annual college ministry issue. Her article featured several students. The Outlook is sending a few extra copies for anyone who wants to grab one. They’ll be in the Gathering Space next week!
Black Lives Matter and College Ministry, by Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey
In 2012 I took a pilgrimage to Ferguson, MO in the wake of protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown. I went with fellow faith leaders and activists to listen and learn the context of what was unfolding. These protests were not going away. In fact, by the time I arrived in early December, four months after it all began, it had become the longest sustained protest in U.S. history. These young people were starting a movement.
At the time, our media was only offering caricatures of events and people…black people burning things and looting, white people justifiably scared. Indignant police. Chaos and reaction. Since then, however, the movement has galvanized in many different forms and just last month the collective Movement for Black Lives released a comprehensive platform composed by a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people from across the country.
|“Black humanity and dignity requires black political will and power. In response to the sustained and increasingly visible violence against Black communities in the U.S. and globally, a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people from across the country have come together with renewed energy and purpose to articulate a common vision and agenda. We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work.” -Platform of the Movement For Black Lives|
The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has endorsed the platform in its entirety. The PC(USA) has been working to address and dismantle racism for decades and at this year’s general assembly, voted to revise the denomination’s anti-racism policy naming for the first time “white supremacy” as the system keeping racism intact despite emancipation and despite desegregation and the policy gains achieved by the Civil Rights Movement.
As a campus minister serving the University of Virginia, I have also been deeply engaged in the conversations around race. U.Va. has a troubled history and legacy including slavery, memorializing confederate soldiers, actively fighting integration in the 1950s, and the enrollment of women in the 1960s. Like many universities in this country, continuing bias and racism is reflected in the lack of faculty members of color, declining Black student enrollment, racist epithets and rhetoric wielded by students, and a lack of support for multicultural academic programs and departments. In 2003, a student council president candidate was attacked, her assailant slamming her head into a car while telling her, “no one wants a nigger to be president.” In 2014, “UVA Hates Blacks” appeared on a university sign and during the 2015 spring semester, honor society member Martese Johnson was violently arrested without cause.
|“When Martese Johnson was arrested I was completely horrified and unnerved, but what I found to be even more unnerving were some of the responses from my peers, that Martese was ‘making it about race.’ Not only was it such a violent local reminder of a national crisis, but a reminder of how often racial violence in this country is made invisible or invalidated.”
-Hope Atkins, U.Va. Class of 2018, Poetry & Psychology
The University is addressing these things through institutional efforts to repair the biased historical record and memorialize enslaved persons as well as address the lack of multicultural programing and faculty. The students of color at U.Va. as well as white student activists are organized and articulate. The Black Student Alliance released a comprehensive document, “Towards a Better University,” detailing abuses and continuing racism as well as constructive mandates a year before protests broke out on university campuses across the country, from Mizzou to Yale to Princeton, elevating a similar dialogue nationally.
|“We must hold each other and ourselves accountable for the current state of affairs. Building a sustainable culture of truth demands that we grapple with our complex racial history.” -U.Va. Black Student Alliance, Towards a Better University|
Our Ukirk, Presbyterian Student Fellowship ministry here at U.Va., is small and mostly white. However, we, along with some of the other small protestant campus ministries, started conversations with our students about the Movement For Black Lives and what we might do at U.Va. in solidarity with students of color. Our student’s responses were so encouraging and hopeful. They wanted to talk about these things but didn’t necessarily know how to start. Contextualizing the work of dismantling racism inside of our Christian faith and the call of the Gospels was energizing and empowering. Dealing with contemporary, explicit racism is one thing, but reaching deep inside to address subconscious bias, or reaching far back in history to address the roots of injustice is hard deep work. However, our faith equips us to do just that! The depths which we are willing to bring before God are the depths of redemption possible in Christ. Practicing this with my students is not only necessary in our present day, but I believe it will equip them to live faith filled lives well beyond college.
|“Talking about Black Lives Matter on Tuesday nights at Ukirk has helped me step out of my ordinary routine and comfort zone; if members of my community are suffering, then I shouldn’t remain complacent in my ignorance and idly sit by. I want to remain informed so that I can help spread the awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement throughout our college campus, and do my part to fight systemic inequality.”
-Renée Ritchie, U.Va. Class of 2017, School of Architecture
In the wake of the arrest of Martese Johnson and UVA’s students of color telling story after story of their painful experiences in our community because of racism and implicit bias, some of us started imagining how we might facilitate this sort of deep reflection and lament here and point towards our connections to one another. It led to a diverse gathering of clergy, faith leaders and students, hosted at our campus ministry house, Common Grounds. We designed a public campaign of laments aimed towards acknowledging the historical and present racism in our community and affirming the experiences of our students of color. We organized everything under the banner #PassionWeekUVA. We realized the campaign through social media as well as postering the university grounds each night and eventually painting the beta bridge, a public university landmark.
Some of the posters read like this:
–I lament that despite application rates remaining constant, African American enrollment has declined over the last decade and now sits at only 6% and that U.Va. has been ineffective at retaining black faculty. #LamentRacialDisparity #PassionWeekUVA
–I lament that acting honorably does not include economic justice and paying workers of the university a living wage, #LamentHypocrisy, Passion Week UVA
– I lament the legacy of White supremacy that remains in many fraternities and goes unchallenged and unrecognized. #LamentInstitutionalizedRacism #PassionWeekUVA
Then, on Easter Sunday, the posters and social media changed and read, “#Commit to Truth.”
–I commit to advocating for people of color and proclaiming truth about racism within my community. #CommitToTruth #PassionWeekUVA
There were 14 of us in the original meeting. By the end of the week the web page we had established, explaining what we were doing and its relation to Holy Week had over 10,000 views. Thousands more had encountered the campaign through social media and the posters on grounds.
Though this did not the end of racism at U.Va., it demonstrated deep community reflection and that many are deeply engaged and that we are ready and mobilized and working for transformation.
|“We created Passion Week UVA during an especially tense time at the University of Virginia. Long existing undercurrents of racism, homophobia, misogyny, rape culture, and white privilege were being dredged to the surface, attracting national media attention. Day after day I would edge by television reporters on my way to class. I felt helpless talking to friends who seemed to be more concerned with the image of the University than human dignity. I was frustrated at student leaders, in the complex system of student self governance, for ending rallies about systematic oppression with the Good Ole Song, UVA’s fight song, in a time when the institution of UVA in no way “cheered my heart” and was definitely not a “bright and gay” place.
“As a small eccumenical group, we developed a list of lamentations about our University and community, and shared these lamentations as posters taped up around university grounds during passion week. There was an anonymity about putting up posters, exclaiming in bold letters things like “I lament the culture of privilege and white silence at UVA” that I found especially empowering. It wasn’t about permission or getting credit, but about finding the Third Way to work against unjust systems.
“My hope for Passion Week UVA was that who ever needed to see the posters would see them, whether that be a faculty member oblivious to our concerns or a student feeling alone in their convictions. At a time when the loudest voices were protecting institutions and tradition over justice and truth, Passion Week UVA gave me a way to feel empowered answer God’s call, to fight against systems of oppression, and to seek justice without pride or fear.”
-Maggie Rogers, U.Va. Class of 2016, Architecture
We are three years into a movement led by young people of color in this country. It is a movement to end violence and state sanctioned racism. It is a movement for black lives but working to liberate us all, black, white, undocumented, lgbtq…all of us. Our Christian faith uniquely equips us for the deep reflection, courage and perseverance to transform society and culture, to dismantle racism and build the beloved community. Engaging this movement and issues of race is critical for campus ministry groups and also presents a unique opportunity for deep Christian discipleship and community building.
|“My hope for the U.Va. community is that all students feel welcome, valued, and safe. I believe talking about race and the Black Lives Matter movement at Ukirk is important because we need to be engaged in combating messages of hate at our university and the maltreatment black Uva students face.”
-Martha Fulp-Eickstaedt, U.Va. Class of 2017, Creative Writing & Sociology
I do not know exactly what resurrection in the aftermath of slavery and racism will look like. I know that its confluence with violence and guns in our world will continue to be devastating and fatal. I think we have a long way to go to heal from it all. But the possibility of life is in all things through Christ Jesus and we testify to it when we also, freed in life, enter into the wounds of the world with that same life and possibility.