We will not let hate win
Since 2005, Feeding Hills Congregational Church, United Church of Christ has been, in UCC lingo, “Open and Affirming,” which means that here, rather than judge people for their sexual identity or orientation, we simply welcome them. We’re all part of the community and we believe and act upon the belief that all are loved by the God who made us, for whatever reason, the people we are.
A couple of years ago, in order to get the word out more effectively, we purchased a large banner to hang between our two front doors. Over the colors of the gay pride flag, the banner read, “God Is Still Speaking.” It took a few months, but gradually word began to spread: this church means it when we say that “Everybody, everybody, everybody is WELCOME.” And we grew in spirit and in numbers. It’s been a blessing.
Well, over the past week or so, we have begun to deal with the fact that not everybody shares our vision of what it means to be welcoming. First, our gay pride flag was stolen last week. Then, on Monday morning, I arrived to find that someone had cut the banner from between our doors and made off with it. Now, that was a large and fairly heavy banner, so this effort took some ambition, and probably a little time. Even in the dead of night when this happened, there’s plenty of traffic on North Westfield Street. But not much church maintenance goes on in those hours, so you’d think someone might have noticed and made a call. But no.
As it happened, we had a meeting of our governing body, the Church Council, scheduled for the next evening, and the banner and flag issue rose to the top of the agenda. I can say that my Church Council also rose to the occasion. They immediately made plans to replace the banner and to have a public dedication ceremony when it is installed. We will be inviting our religious community colleagues and our Agawam town officials to this event. In fact, we’ll be inviting everybody, everybody, everybody. That’s what we do here.
Years ago, a pastor in another place and time noted the following: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
What’s the lesson? A community stands or falls – not as individuals – but as a community. We are, as the Apostle Paul would say, in evil times. There is a lot of divisiveness. Whether it’s Socialists or Trade Unionists or Jews, or whether it’s journalists or racial minorities or the LGBTQ community, the basic issue is the same. We stand together. Or we fall. That’s what evil times have in common over the centuries. I say we stand. Proud and tall. I hope the community stands with us. What say you?
The Rev. Rob Donaldson, Pastor
Feeding Hills Congregational Church, United Church of Christ