Posted on October 20, 2015
by Julia Urban
Originally posted on the website of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness
Six weeks into my internship with the Coalition on Homelessness, and my experiences have been above and beyond any of my expectations a month ago. Two weeks ago, I was excited to be a part of the 10th Annual Homeless and Formerly Homeless Youth Advocacy Summit (October 5-6, 2015). While doing advocacy work in Minnesota, I learned that I would constantly learn and grow by witnessing folks advocate around issues that impact their lives, and my time at the Youth Advocacy Summit proved to be no exception to this rule!
Having just supported the Coalition’s 2015 Voter Registration drive, one of the highlights of the Summit for me was witnessing young people choosing to participate in advocacy by exercising their right to vote. Over the course of the Summit, I was particularly excited to watch people think in a different, new way about voting. On the first day of the Summit, one participant was pretty vocal in their choice to not register to vote, feeling that their vote wasn’t enough to make change. Through conversations with other Summit participants, discussions about our elected officials in city and county government, and time to reflect, this participant changed their mind and decided to register! They are ready to have their voice heard in the upcoming election, and will do so through their vote as well as their conversations with Council members during and beyond the Youth Advocacy Summit.
Participants at the Youth Advocacy Summit took on no small task! I was impressed by these advocates’ commitment over two very full days (three days for Peer Leaders!) of discussing some of the hard work that needs to be done in this community. Advocates worked on and presented one of four issues throughout the Summit:
1 – Need for an increase in the numbers of available permanent and affordable housing units
2 – Issues specifically impacting People of Color and LGBTQ youth
3 – Need for increased access to low-barrier, supportive resources
4 – Street safety and public space use.
Advocates met with King County Executive Dow Constantine; King County Councilmembers Larry Gossett, Dave Upthegrove, Kathy Lambert, Joe McDermott, and Rod Dembowski; Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, Tim Burgess, and Mike O’Brien; and senior staff from the Seattle Human Services Department to discuss their topics.
On the second day of the Summit, I was able to sit in on the meeting between the advocacy group focusing on issues impacting People of Color and LGBTQ youth and Councilmember KshamaSawant. Councilmember Sawant was clearly invested in the conversation, and engaged with participants through asking questions and sharing her observations. Our meeting with Councilmember Sawant was incredibly driving; at the end of our meeting she stated that the work being done that day in the office was the groundwork to making change. She asked participants to continue to speak up, and made it clear that she supports their efforts to work towards a community where all are safe and treated equitably. Councilmember Sawant reminded myself and the people that I was with that change may not happen quickly, but that it is made possible through the long efforts of folks like those meeting with her in that moment.
After the Youth Advocacy Summit, I went to my first City Council budget hearing. As a newcomer to the city, I find myself constantly learning from the locals who have experienced firsthand the impact of the City of Seattle’s budget. Several advocates from the Youth Advocacy Summit were present to speak up, as well as representatives from all over the city who care about creating a budget that adequately responds to the state of emergency in this city. Seeing folks testify for a budget that actually responds to the state of emergency, instead of taking the usual stance of “business as usual”, has helped me to understand the impact that this budget will have on the city. More than anything, these testimonies serve as a reminder to me that people need to continue to speak up! The next, and final, public budget hearing will take place TONIGHT, October 20th, at 5:30 PM (sign-in begins at 5:00!), and we need you to show up to speak up for Human Services and housing and homelessness issues. Join us, wear red to declare the state of emergency, and be ready to tell City Council that “we are in a state of emergency; we must have an equal response”.
by Margie Quinn
From the Faith & Family Homelessness Project post 7-01-2015 Margie is a native of Nashville, Tennessee and graduate of the University of Georgia. After graduating with a Women’s Studies/French degree, Margie moved to Seattle to begin a one-year “Justice Leadership Program” through the United Church of Christ (UCC),.Margie made many happy when she decided to stay with us in the Pacific Northwest after completing her program. She is now the Program Manager for Facing Homelessness, a national effort to build a new awareness about our relationship with homelessness. She also manages Homeless in Seattle, a local effort to raise awareness for those living without shelter and other basic needs through the sharing of photos and personal stories that highlight their beauty. We are a verb-heavy generation.
Helping, doing, serving, saving. “We are not human beings, we are human doings!” we shout, determined to accomplish it all. So naturally when I took a job at Facing Homelessness in the fall, I prepared for an active role, one that would allow me to help people in need every day and see them benefit from our work.
Our organization began from a Facebook project, Homeless in Seattle. While we have reached outside of this community to do other projects, we still use our Facebook page as our main awareness-raising and people-helping machine.
Here is how our Facebook page works. Every week, we post photographs and stories of people in need with the intention of showing the beauty of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle. We then invite our community of over 17,000 people to help these individuals by providing them with a tent, a pair of boots, or even a month’s rent to get them through a rough spot. It is a rewarding feeling to post about someone in need and, within two hours, see that need filled by a number of caring people
. The phrases that ring through my head are, “Instant gratification!” “Wow, that was fast!” “We did it! One down, 3,771 to go!” While I want to honor how quickly our community comes forward with compassion, I have to admit that my “fix-it” mentality is a slippery slope.
It’s tricky, this fix-it game. I can become so overjoyed when we help someone that I close the book on their story, assuming that they are now on an upward trajectory toward healing and hope. I know, I know. Total Millennial. But it takes a lot to fight against that part of me that longs for the happy ending, every time. I met a man in the fall who changed the way I see homelessness.
Let’s call him Jim. Jim would come to our office almost every day and help me sort donations or hand out socks to people on the street. Despite being homeless himself, Jim was diligent about doing street outreach with us in his spare time. We made a post about Jim a few months into knowing him, just announcing what a beautiful person he is. He’s a got a big heart.
A few months ago, Jim called our office and told us that he had gotten into housing. He would be moving from his shelter that weekend and couldn’t wait. He was elated and so were we.
I can’t explain the joy I felt the day Jim got housing. Enthusiasm, relief, victory. Jim had become a close friend of ours and his success felt personal in a new way for me.
What I couldn’t have known at the time is that Jim’s mental illness and psychological issues would not go away as soon as he got housing. In fact, as Jim transitioned into a single room in a big building, I started to hear from him less and less. He would send emails sporadically, saying that he was going out of town for a few weeks or that he couldn’t come by the office. Clearly, Jim was going through something and I couldn’t help him.
Here is what I am trying to say: I want the happy ending. I want to know that Jim gets better and stays better. I want to know that Jim is a happier man now. And so do many of our Facebook friends. When people drop off donations in our office, they ask about many of the people with whom we post. “How is she doing? Did she make it to that recovery appointment?” “How is he doing? Is he back on his feet yet?” I love it when my answer is a positive one, and it often is. But in the times when I have to say, “I don’t know, we haven’t seen him in a while,” or “He is back on the street,” I feel heartbreak. We talk about local minister Craig Rennebohm a lot in our office.
Craig did street ministry in Seattle for a number of years and introduced a new way of helping people, in which you recognize that you yourself need help, too. He calls it Companioning. (read our 2012 post about Craig’s work here and
learn more about the Mental Health Chaplaincy
here. Companioning is not fixing.
It is walking with someone through their suffering. Companioning is not telling someone what to do. It’s listening deeply to their wants and needs. Companioning is not giving someone a dollar and wishing them luck.
It’s showing up in someone’s life, time and time again, to bear witness to their existence and humanity.
This is the paradox, isn’t it? It’s finding how to celebrate the small victories and the acts of kindness pouring forth without forgetting the slow work of God. Because sometimes, God’s work is slow. Real slow.
Lately I’m trying to hold the paradox: The beautiful, quick fixes that our community provides for people in need with the slower, deeper process of walking with someone experiencing homelessness. There is no right or wrong here. Both the Band-Aid and the friendship are necessary in changing someone. But more importantly, both are necessary in changing ourselves. ♥ To join the Homeless in Seattle community visit their Facebook page. ♥ Want to start a movement in your community? Learn more at Facing Homelessness.
Picture of the Faith led march in response to Ferguson’s jury decision in no indictment of officer Darren Wilson I am an intern at The Church Council of Greater Seattle and there are a set of responsibilities that I have/had to fulfill. I started a resource guide and website counterpart for migrants in our community, I set up our monthly living wage working group meetings, and recently I created a couple community workshops for those who would be affected by Obama’s new immigration reform announcement. All good things, but after my conversation with a friend of mine I realized a balance between the idea of “being” and “doing” was missing.
You see “doing” is so much easier to do. We can quantify what we do, see, count, and judge our results. We can also count the results of not doing. After we accomplish something our next thought tends to be on the “what’s next?” There’s never this moment of reflection on what has been done because we are so consumed on tackling our next tasks. For myself I can see how I’ve been caught up in the “doing” versus the “being.” Somewhere along the lines I lost my passion for doing some of the things that were mentioned above. They became things on a checklist that had to be checked off before certain due dates. I had lost that energy I came into the program with.
I’ve had many moments where I began to ask myself the “why I am here” questions and then start a list of all the things I could have been doing this year. I think the reason why I find myself in these states of mind is because my sense of being was somewhere buried underneath all of the deadlines, tasks, and projects that are constantly growing. I believe the idea of “being” is challenging one self to think of how the work we are doing drives our spirituality and how our spirituality drives our work. If no reflection is going on then you might find yourself (like me) disconnected between your work and who you are. They become a year long to do list.
What does it actually mean for us (me) to march in a rally for social justice?
What does it actually mean for us (me) to advocate for a living wage?
What does it actually mean for us (me) to advocate for the rights of those undocumented?
What does it actually mean for us (me) to advocate in ending homelessness?
I am at a point in my life where I am being reminded of what it means to fully live out (be) the work I am doing rather than to just do my work. I want to learn more about who I am in this year of service and leave the program a year from now knowing that every Mon-Fri I was able to enhance the Kingdom of God in either small or big ways.
Thanks for reading.
Here is a Link to the Sin Fronteras Resource Guide I was able to work on. http://www.sinfronterasguide.org/
Diving into internship this fall has meant adapting to new roles, new institutions, new community, new questions! Here's what that looks like more tangibly: Amber
, at the Faith Action Network, has been networking with people of faith who want to raise their voices on social justice issues. You may be lucky enough to receive a call from her about attending Interfaith Advocacy Days, where you can share your faith-inspired concerns about homelessness, hunger, climate change, and more. (Learn more at http://fanwa.org. Closest to Amber's heart among the FAN legislative priorities are increasing revenue that enables the social safety net while funding education, and addressing the culture of violence. Ask her about them! At Keystone Church, Amber helped organize the Festival of Hope, which raised record-breaking revenue (and perhaps postcards) for action against hunger. Emmanuel
, at the Church Council of Seattle, is focusing his attention on immigration reform, including a compassionate response to the unaccompanied children who have fled violence and poverty in Central America. He is creating a resource pamphlet for both those seeking help and those seeking to extend solidarity. Look also for curriculum he is developing on immigration for communities of faith. (Check the Church Council website for how to communicate with him: thechurchcouncil.org) Emmanuel is always asking how our faith organizations can better embody God's extravagant welcome and care for all, especially for communities of color. Hillary
, at the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, helped to organize a voter registration drive during which over 180 homeless and unstably-housed individuals registered to vote, as a way to make sure everyone's voices are heard. She also had an audience with Seattle mayor, Ed Murray, on improving citywide responses to homelessness. During a King County Council budget hearing she testified in Spanish and English, sharing quotes to advocate for King County Winter Shelter funding. (You can sign the Coalition's petition for this at www.homelessinfo.org
by clicking the link to their petition.) In November Hillary was featured in the "Yes for Buses" campaign, and now she is incredibly busy helping organize the One Night Count of people who are homeless at the end of January. Hillary works with young adult and social justice groups at All Pilgrims Church. She is glad to be part of this program and is learning lots and enjoying being an advocate. Honah
, at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, is planning the program for the biggest advocacy day of the legislative session: Housing and Homelessness Advocacy Day! She is contacting legislators, and recently led a webinar introducing the Housing Alliance's legislative agenda for the year. In September, Honah was inspired by members of WLIHA's Emerging Advocates Program, who are translating their experiences of homelessness into powerful advocacy. At Plymouth Church, Honah is planning a breakfast forum--featuring school cafeteria-themed food!--on advocating for the Breakfast After the Bell bill. For more information about the bill, go to: http://blogs.seattletimes.com/educationlab/2014/01/31/guest-to-help-more-kids-succeed-serve-breakfast-after-the-bell/.
All of us have been reflecting weekly on our work, faith, and the gifts and challenges of community life. In class, we have begun to explore and develop skills in community organizing, anti-racism and anti-oppression work, legislative advocacy, and trauma stewardship. We are wrestling especially with how to speak up and act out for racial justice.
There is still a little time remaining for fun: dinners at La Cantina, decorating the apartment for Christmas, and going out dancing in Capitol Hill!
Elizabeth Dickinson, Program Manager, Justice Leadership Program
Advent for our Social Justice interns began with a powerful two-day training on Undoing Institutional Racism. Justice Leadership Program interns and staff gathered with about fifty folks of all races from Urban Impact, Teen Feed, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, the Seattle police force, community colleges, and more. We explored the many ways racism harms all of us, and shared stories and strategies for change. And we came away with hope and the resolve to work toward liberating the gifts and potential of every individual and community. It was surely a fitting way to prepare to celebrate the birth of One who embraced the vocation, "to preach good news to the poor...to set at liberty the oppressed."
Our Interns, like all of our host churches have been keeping very busy during this season of Advent, so we can only keep up with them through their blogs! Here are a few excerpts we want to share with you.
Margie (Washington Low Income Housing Alliance): 5,000,000. That’s how many low-income families, people with disabilities, and senior citizens are able to live in safe, healthy, and affordable homes thanks to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs. 50%. That’s how much funding has been cut from HUD and USDA programs since 2010. 600,000. That’s the number of people experiencing homelessness on any given night across the U.S. By the end of 2014, Washington could see as many as 2,860 fewer housing vouchers due to sequestration. Less housing vouchers means fewer families housed. We cannot let this happen. Call Congress today, and urge them to cancel sequestration in order to protect housing and homelessness programs. Your voice matters.
Briana (Church Council of Greater Seattle): In the week before ballots were due, I spent an afternoon with a couple other Church Council folks canvassing in SeaTac. In my given “turf,” I went door to door, seeing if I could answer questions about Proposition 1 [the $15 living wage proposition] and share why I, as a member of the faith community, was standing in solidarity with the workers who had organized to place this measure on the ballot... This experience was a fascinating look into the behind the scenes grass-root efforts to speak with every voter and ensure that the often marginalized members of our communities are able to vote. It made me reflect on how at its core, the communal ritual of voting is supposed to give us all an equal opportunity to make our voices heard.
Karin (Earth Ministry): Last week our faith partners [attending]... the UN COP19 Climate Conference shared a message with the larger faith community: "...on day one, Commissioner Yeb Saño of the Philippines made a heart-felt and impassioned plea on behalf of his people - our Filipino brothers and sisters - devastated by Typhoon Haiyan. As part of his statement he announced that he was beginning a voluntary fast until such time as the global community made significant progress in responding to the global climate crisis. We have begun a fasting chain and are inviting you to join us..." It is one of the great tragedies of climate change that the people who will suffer most from it are those who had the least to do with causing it.... As we enter the time of year when we give thanks for all of the richness in our lives, we have come face-to-face with the cost of our abundance. Let us fast before we give thanks.
Jenn Hagedorn, past UCC Social Justice Intern and current Social Justice Liaison at Plymouth Congregational UCC
The passing of Proposition One in SeaTac is truly an incredible step towards living wages for our community and beyond! For me the issue of worker’s rights in SeaTac is the campaign that has shaped my understanding of the persistence, strength and determination of workers united.
I’ll never forget how little I knew on the day of my first action in SeaTac on the second or third day of orientation for the Justice Leadership Program in September 2012. For a start, I really shouldn’t have worn flats. Sneakers would have been a better choice. Beyond my new footwear wisdom, I learned what it was like to participate in a large action that brought together workers, people of faith, union members and countless community groups with a united voice. Hundreds of us gathered together and marched to the headquarters of Alaska Airlines, calling out for better jobs and respect for all the people who work at our airport. This was only one of the many ways that people had, and would continue to work towards this goal.
Over the next year, I was standing with workers as they filed complaints with the Department of Labor and Industry, as they stood in front of news cameras and talked about the health and safety violations, and as they talked to their managers about respect and dignity in the workplace. I also stood with them as they spoke out at the Shareholders meeting and as they requested union recognition.
It was working on this campaign that gave me the framework to learn about power that comes from not only hearing about the statistics that point towards solutions, but the people who are living those statistics every day. In talking to the workers and hearing their stories I was opened up to the way that the workers knew what they needed to change. They were the best ones to identify the ways that changes to policies and attitudes could impact their work environment. They were the best ones to explain how low wages and unsafe conditions were impacting them and their families. They were the best ones to lead the way. And what an incredible place they have brought us to!
I am thrilled that Proposition One has passed and I stand with the workers as it is now being fought out in court. Beyond the joy that I feel, what I am truly struck by is my deep gratitude for the incredible learning and growing that this campaign allowed me to experience through my internship year and beyond.
Briana Frenchmore, UCC Social Justice Intern with The Church Council of Greater Seattle
On Monday, I was present as the King County Council voted in favor of approving the King County Detainer Ordinance
[2013-0885]. The passing of this legislation is a significant step in addressing an unjust immigration enforcement system.
The Detainer Ordinance will address many of the detrimental effects of ICE’s (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) program, Secure Communities
, which allows for the fingerprint data collected in local jails to be checked by a federal immigration database run by ICE. If a match can be found, ICE places a request for a "hold," regardless of whether the person has been convicted of a crime. As a University of Washington report
found that ICE detainer requests target people without serious criminal charges or criminal histories and increase the average jail stay for individuals. The current detainer practices increase the cost to local governments and Secure Communities has been found to erode trust
between communities and local law enforcement, lead to racial profiling, increase the length of jail stays
, and does not target those who have actually been convicted of a serious crime
It was exciting to be present in the King County Courthouse and watch on from the balcony seating as King County Councilmembers finished their final deliberations on this measure. In a packed courtroom, the Detainer Ordinance was passed with a 5-4 vote. The ordinance had been in the works for the past 20 months, with over 32 community groups advocating for its passage including groups such as One America, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Casa Latina, and El Centro de la Raza.
As an intern with the Church Council, I attended several Washington New Sanctuary Movement and Washington Immigration Roundtable meetings where I received updates on where the ordinance stood. Just a month ago there was great concern that the ordinance was short 1 vote from passing so community groups went to town to put pressure on one councilmember who was refusing to come out in support of the ordinance, despite previous pledges to support immigrants and their families. Within the capacity of the Church Council I drafted an Action Alert and sent it out to over 1,100 of our members, inviting them to contact their King County Councilmembers and urge them to vote yes on the ordinance. I enjoyed being able to connect people in the faith community with an opportunity for advocacy for a measure that will have a significant positive impact in our region.
As federal comprehensive immigration reform is put on hold by politicians, it is encouraging to see that counties and community groups are continuing to press ahead to find local solutions that will separate fewer families, begin to restore trust in our communities and make them safe for the many people who call our neighborhoods home.
Briana Frenchmore, UCC Social Justice Intern with The Church Council of Greater Seattle
Just south of Seattle, the November ballot asked voters in the city of SeaTac (pop. 27,000) to decide if 6,300 transportation and hospitality workers in and around the airport would see their wages raised to $15 an hour.
The potential impact of this decision has captured more than just local attention with news sources such as the BBC reporting that, “SeaTac, Washington, is an unremarkable town that's become remarkable.”
If passed, in addition to a minimum wage increase, Proposition 1 also includes annual raises attached
to inflation, paid sick leave, tip protection and encourages employers to offer full-time employment to
current employees before hiring more part-time workers. The measure would affect about 70 airport
related businesses that include airline service contractors, car-rental agencies with more than 25
employees, retail businesses with more than 10 employees, and hotels with more than 100 rooms.
Two weeks after Election Day, the final outcome of the measure is still far from being decided with Proposition 1 leading with a mere 46 votes
. Both supporters and opponents have said that a recount
is almost certain. Additionally, Filo Foods along with Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant
Association have filed a lawsuit against Proposition 1 in the King County Superior Court and are
also bringing legal action against the Port of Seattle which owns and operates the airport, hoping to
invalidate the measure.When every vote counts: Canvassing for local change
In the week before ballots were due, I spent an afternoon with a couple other Church Council folks canvassing in SeaTac. In my given “turf,” I went door to door, seeing if I could answer questions about
Proposition 1 and share why I, as a member of the faith community, was standing in solidarity with the workers who had organized to place this measure on the ballot. My other critical task was to urge voters to get their ballots in ASAP because literally every vote was going to be crucial.
In the previous months, the Yes! For SeaTac
campaign had registered 900 new voters—an exciting accomplishment in a city with just over 12,000 registered voters. Many of the new voters were non-native English speakers and coming from countries where voting does not serve any democratic purpose. This experience was a fascinating look into the behind the scenes grass-root efforts to speak with every voter and ensure that the often marginalized members of our communities are able to vote. It made me reflect on how at its core, the communal ritual of voting is supposed to give us all an equal opportunity to make our voices heard.Stronger together: Airport workers and the faith community organize for living wages
In the months leading up to the election I also had the opportunity to attend a couple of Interfaith Airport Community meetings and learn the story of how Proposition 1 came to be. What is remarkable
is that over a year ago, “$15 an hour” wasn’t on anyone’s radar. However, as workers and faith leaders
came together, a vision and course of action to address dismal working conditions took shape.
At one of the meetings held at the Somali Community Center, a baggage handler who had worked at
SeaTac for over 15 years shared comments that had been collected from other workers about what
Proposition 1 would mean for them and their families if it passed. Many of the workers expressed that
an increased wage would help them better afford housing and food, allow them to spend more time
with their families, and even be able to afford education for themselves or their children.
According to Puget Sound SAGE’s report, “First-class Airport, Poverty-class Jobs”
, the average wage of airline contracted employee is $9.70 an hour ($20,176 a year if they work full time), putting workers just $1,600 above the federal poverty line for a family of three. Meanwhile, as the “Yes! For SeaTac”
campaign publicizes, Alaska Airlines had three years of record profits, including $812 million in revenues. Three percent of its net profits would fund living wages for all its SeaTac contract workers.
At the meeting I met Rev. Jan Bolerjack, the pastor of Riverton Park United Methodist near SeaTac. Rev. Bolerjack, an active leader in the Proposition 1 campaign, shared how she remembers asking why people at her church who were working full time at the airport still needed to stand in line for food
This question of why people who work are living in poverty, cuts right to the heart of the matter concerning the ever-increasing economic disparity in our country. As people who seek to do justice, we must opt for solutions that create change at a systemic level. SeaTac’s Proposition 1 offers a vision of economic justice where every worker can earn a living wage, ultimately recognizing their inherent dignity and worth as fellow human beings.
| || |Elizabeth Dickinson, Program Manager, Justice Leadership Program
Two months into their commitment with the Justice Leadership Program (JLP), our UCC Social Justice Interns are already deeply involved in our partner agencies and congregations. We share here some highlights of their work, made possible by support from Pacific Northwest Conference churches and the national UCC Young Adult Service Communities (YASC), of which JLP is a part.
Briana, interning at the Church Council of Greater Seattle
, is following worker justice campaigns and inviting churches to explore what a "living wage" would mean for families, businesses, and communities. She is also active in local and national immigration roundtables working for a just and comprehensive immigration reform. Serving at Plymouth Congregational Church, she is learning how a large church organizes to actively incorporate both advocacy and direct service in living out their social justice commitment.
Karin, interning at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light
, helps faith communities engage in environmental stewardship. She and other staff recently met with UCC pastors in Ritzville and Pullman about eliminating toxics from children's products, and were graced with a tour of a congregant's wheat farm. (see www.earthministry.blogspot.com/
) Karin has also testified about the impact of coal exports on local and global communities. Serving at Keystone Congregational Church
, she is helping to update communications and prepare a Festival of Hope to raise funds for anti-poverty organizations.
Margie, interning at Washington Low Income Housing Alliance
, has taken her first trip to Olympia with advocates deeply affected by the housing crisis, and is beginning to plan Housing & Homelessness Advocacy Day (Jan. 28!) and the Conference on Ending Homelessness. Serving at All Pilgrims Christian Church, she delights in the diverse worshipping community and the weekly community dinner for those seeking a healthy meal and friendly conversation.
Together in weekly "spiritual sojourning," they have written mission statements for their year of service and created a covenant for intentional community living. They have appreciated words from Marge Piercy's poem, "To Be Of Use:" "The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real."
Thank you for this opportunity to do work that is real, and meaningful.
Karin Frank, UCC Social Justice Intern, written for Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light
Last weekend our safe chemicals’ team, Jessie Dye and I, took a trip to Eastern Washington. We were on our way to Pullman, along with the Washington Toxics Coalition and Washington State Nurses Association, to talk with communities there about legislation to remove toxic chemicals from furniture and children’s toys
. The staff here at Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light has loved visiting Eastern Washington in the past, and is committed to connecting with more communities on the dry side of our beautiful state.
We had the good fortune to visit the Oregon Trail town of Ritzville to meet Rev. Judith Rinehart-Nelson of Zion Philadelphia Congregational UCC. After lunch with Rev. Rinehart-Nelson and one of her gracious congregants, Ron Jirava, Ron gave us a fascinating tour of his wheat farm. It might be God ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz
, who brings forth bread from the Earth, but Ron seems to do a lot of the work, too.
Driving us through his fields and showing us his equipment, Ron told us about the history of his family that has tilled and passed this land on through the generations. The history of this farm, and the original Congregation Church in the Northwest on his land, goes back to his family’s arrival here six generations ago. People who spend the days working the land with their own hands often remember things other people can forget.
We were moved by his words that echoed Leviticus (25:23): “For the land is mine; for you are sojourners, residents with me.” How could I own this land--Ron wanted to know--it has been here for so many generations before me, it will be here for long after. If we damage it, how are we caring for the people who cared for it before passing it on, or the people who will tend it after us, or the God who made it and lends it to us for a while?
People who work the land remember just how dependent we are on the generosity, and how vulnerable we are to the whims, of the natural world. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, farming is at the center of religious life. The Bible is filled with prayer for rain for the growing plants and prayers for a safe and abundant harvest that will provide enough food for all.
These are the same prayers that today Rev. Rinehart-Nelson says fill her spiritual life and the life of her congregation.
Small scale farming is not a get rich quick, or ever, scheme. Farmers exist in a production-based economy that demands the highest yields, the amount of crop you can harvest from each acre, every year. They feed a large and growing population all over the world that needs healthy food to eat. In an age when we will pay $200 for an iPhone but $1 is too expensive for an apple, farmers struggle to get by from year to year. Ron explained that they have very little safety net for the inevitable ups and downs of a livelihood that depends on the good graces of the natural world.
Each season, farmers have to carefully balance how much pesticide and herbicide they need to use to obtain yields high enough to support themselves without poisoning the land they live and work on. They need to decide how much to till – increasing labor, greenhouse gas emissions, erosion, water usage, fuel use, and crop-harming pests, but also increasing the all-important yield that is required to financially stay afloat from year-to-year. In God’s first, most fundamental command to humans, agriculture and environmentalism are intertwined. Humans are to tend – protect and care for – and till – to work and live from – the land. In our economy, environmentalism clashes with finances
What we spend money on reflects what is sacred to us. In the 1960’s, Americans spent about a third of their income on food. In 2009, Americans spent an average of 6% of their income on food, compared with 14% in France, 20% in Poland, and 44% in Belarus – all countries with lower incidences of malnutrition than America. When we devalue our food, we do not value the land that produces our food, and we damage and degrade it. We ignore the sacredness of the process through which the world is fed.
We are grateful to Rev. Judith and Ron for the beautiful day they shared with us on the wheat farm near Ritzville. For our part, we commit to learning from and connecting with our farming neighbors. We hope to bring more people of faith to tour and see this farming community next summer. Right now you can check out the amazing Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at WSU
, where you can read all about the interconnectedness of agriculture and the environment.