UCM Closing Due to Coronavirus

In response to the expanding COVID-19 pandemic, we have some changes to announce in UCM’s staffing and operation:
  1. Starting this week and until further notice, Thursday Supper will be offered as a take-out option; Saturday Lunch has been canceled until further notice. Guests at the meal can expect distribution of some of UCM’s store of perishable food, as we seek to ensure that food resources we have been able to accumulate do not go to waste.
  2. For all other purposes, UCM is closed until further notice. This includes regular UCM programming, as well as meetings of community groups scheduled to take place in UCM’s building.
    UCM staff will be periodically checking our voicemail and email, and will respond to contacts as quickly as we are able.
    Because we want to help where we can, we’ll be sharing information and resources on social media and via email as it becomes available, and we want to hear from you what you know and what you need that we might be able to help with.
  3. UCM staff will be periodically checking our voicemail and email, and will respond to contacts as quickly as we are able.
  4. Because we want to help where we can, we’ll be sharing information and resources on social media and via email as it becomes available, and we want to hear from you what you know and what you need that we might be able to help with.
If you want information (or want to share information) about community food resources or our meal programs, email Assistant Director Lacey Rogers (lacey@ucmathens.org); for other UCM and community questions or topics email Executive Director Evan Young (evan@ucmathens.org). Stay safe, stay connected, and work together–together is how we’re going to get through this!

A Prayer for MLK Day 2020

On January 20, UCM Executive Director Rev. Evan Young delivered a prayer at the beginning of the 20th annual MLK Silent March at Ohio University. It was an extemporaneous and heartfelt prayer, and it has taken us some time to find a recording and transcribe it for sharing. We’re indebted to Athens NEWS Associate Editor Conor Morris for sharing with us a recording of the event, our transcription of which we now share with you.

“When I accepted the invitation to perform this service, I acknowledged that it felt a little bit odd to be a white man offering an invocation on this particular day, on this particular occasion, around this particular issue in our lives and in this historical moment. But I was reminded recently of the words of Nelson Mandela, who said, much more eloquently than I could hope to, that “the oppressor and the oppressed must both be liberated.” So it is in this humble spirit of acknowledging both my own complicity in and my own oppression by the systems and structures that Dr. King crusaded against, that I invite you into prayer with me:

For ourselves, for each other, for our communities, local to global and beyond, for any God or power that lives in our hearts and lifts up our spirits, we offer this prayer. Lord, this road we have been walking has been long, and like so many roads it has had its straight stretches and its torturous stretches, its difficult and dangerous passes, and passes in which we are tempted to sink into comfort and forgetfulness. This particular passage we’ve come to feels in many ways dangerous. We have witnessed the rise of sentiments and systems of white supremacy; we have witnessed the increasing permission felt by some of us to act on and argue for the otherness, oppression, and marginalization of many of us. And yet we know, because we have been shown by so many before us, that however long, however difficult our road is, there is an end, a destination, that is better, more whole, more holy than this place. And we know, today, in this group, that there are many who continue on that path with us, carrying that same vision in their hearts. May our feet be guided on the path toward justice. May our hearts be buoyed up by our companions on that path. And may we return with steadfastness and resolve to the work of making that road by walking, so that all may experience the liberation that some have promised and that is our common vision. This we pray in all the names we give to you who have ever been beyond naming. Amen; blessed be.”

Transformative Social Justice Work and Ecumenical/Interfaith Campus Ministry

One of the great challenges of doing social justice work in the present age is that the pace of our information economy undermines the spiritual discipline of memory. In the 24-hour news cycle that increasingly defines our experience, today’s news effectively displaces and erases yesterday’s news, and renders us both rootless and directionless. As the great labor historian and folk singer Utah Phillips said, “the long memory is the most radical idea in this country. It is the loss of that long memory which deprives our people of that connective flow of thoughts and events that clarifies our vision, not of where we’re going, but where we want to go.”

In the conservation and transmission of that long memory, no tool is more important than the story. Our stories, told well in community, offer our experience in all its complexity in a form that invites not debate or disputation, but identification and solidarity. Hearing your story, I look in it for that which resonates with my experience—and my understanding of your need and what would meet it is deepened, calling forth my compassionate response. This is why UCM focuses on “listening people into speech,” evoking their stories and sharing them in contexts that make a difference.

UCM’s story is rooted in the modern ecumenical movement within Protestant Christianity. The modern ecumenical movement was founded on a call for Christian leaders throughout the world to work for peace and justice. This call was a new expression of a millennia-old yearning for a return to unity within the Christian Church—unity that perhaps never existed, and certainly had not existed since the 4th century of the Christian era. The most important—and potentially fruitful—locus of that unity was in our shared ethic of service and restoration. So the movement sought to continue, expand, and integrate efforts of unifying the church globally around the idea of helping all those in need, whether that need be physical, emotional, or spiritual. The movement promoted an understanding amongst the churches that, despite difference, they could join together to be an element of great change in the world, an agent of hope and peace amongst the chaos and destruction that humans seem to create.

This is where UCM comes from, and why we look the way we do. This is the history that underlies our programming and our ministry. This is why there’s a Thursday Supper and a Saturday Lunch, this is why there’s an Appalachian Ohio alternative spring break service/learning trip. And ultimately, as our understanding and identity have expanded beyond the traditional bounds of Christianity, this is why we’ve devoted ourselves to building interfaith relationships of understanding and trust—to addressing our common need to be welcomed, accepted, honored, and attended to within the communities in which we live. This is the story we continue to tell, to invite others into, and to pass on as our heritage of transforming love.

Better Together’s My Sister’s Place Fundraiser

Happy Friday! We hope you all are looking forward to the weekend. As we enter March, Better Together has a new project to share with you all. Currently, interns Saraya Abner and Sam Houtchens are leading a fundraiser in support of My Sister’s Place.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with My Sister’s Place, MSP is a domestic violence agency in Athens, OH that serves the Athens, Hocking, and Vinton Counties. MSP provides a 24/7 hotline, outreach counseling, and an emergency shelter. If you look on MSP’s website (http://www.mspathens.org/), you can view the organization’s current needs, which ranges from clothing to toiletries to cooking and cleaning supplies.

MSP has requested that Better Together raises at least $500 to purchase a cookware set. So far, Better Together has raised $210 towards this goal. However, if you view the GoFundMe page for the fundraiser, you will notice that we have set our optimal goal at $2000. Given that Better Together functions under the umbrella of United Campus Ministry, we are aware of the trials and tribulations that come with organizing, supporting, and fundraising towards a nonprofit’s efforts. In hopes to support My Sister’s Place on an organizational level, such as in providing funds towards MSP’s support staff and internship program, we intend to exceed our original goal of $500.

This is where you come in. We are asking friends, family, supporters of UCM, and the Athens and OU communities to donate towards our fundraiser and to help us promote, share, retweet, blog about, and talk about this fundraiser everywhere. You can find our fundraiser here: https://www.gofundme.com/my-sister039s-place-fundraiser

We thank you for reading, for investing your time into supporting UCM and Better Together, and of course, for donating to our My Sister’s Place fundraiser!

On the Day After the 2018 Election

The temptation to engage with politics as political theater, to see oneself as primarily a spectator in the political process, is strong. And we’re encouraged to do so by moneyed interests and the media they control. I know that at times I’ve succumbed to that temptation—and that those times have felt significantly less empowering than have the times when I’ve been engaged in pursuing my heartfelt mission and vision of a different, more compassionate community and world.

In many ways, elections are to politics what Christmas and Easter services are to Christian churches. They bring out a lot of people we never see at other times. But if enough of the people we see a lot do enough planning and preparation that what’s on offer at those big events is compelling, there’s a good chance we’ll see some of those new faces again. Which is, today (given the narrow scope of the electoral offerings, and the much broader scope of the individual and collective efforts toward transformation I’ve seen and been part of), both a sobering and a hopeful thought.

Gauging the success of organizing and coalition-building work by electoral success is a case of measuring things that can be measured because we can measure them. The things elections measure best are not the things we’re most interested in changing: hearts, minds, understanding of the interdependent nature of our existence in this place and on this planet. Working to transform those things is the kind of life-giving activity that springs from a much deeper well of passion and purpose, and that has always been UCM’s primary work.

I was reading, in the November 2018 issue of The Sun, an interview with Stacy Mitchell, a thoughtful critic of big-box-store economies and monopolistic online retailers like Amazon, and she made a powerful point about the impact of those institutions on the fabric of our communities and our propensity for civic engagement: “Economic relationships often involve other types of relationships, too. When you shop at a small business, you’re dealing with your neighbors. You’re buying from someone whose kids go to school with your kids. That matters for the health of communities. . . . The true value of having a vibrant local economy isn’t just in the bottom line of small businesses and the specific jobs they create. It’s also the notion that place matters. A community can nurture active citizens and help people realize their dreams and potential.” This sounds a lot like the Athens community I know—people who are connected and empowered by the multifaceted relationships they have with one another, and who carry that empowerment into the public and political spheres to drive real social innovation, inclusion, and transformation.

Today is a good day to breathe, to visit, to share a coffee or other beverage with a friend and comrade, and to reflect on the transformative work your relationship is doing in each of your lives. I know my relationships with the folks I’ve been working with for the last two years have changed me in deep and lasting ways. And for that, today I’m giving thanks and praise.

And in case you still need a little quantitative validation of the transformative work you’ve been throwing your heart and soul into all election season, I offer these significant milestones, shared by our friends at Equitas:
Shattering the previous record, at least 114 women won statewide or federal seats across the country—including 94 US House seats, 12 US Senate seats, and 8 Governorships. These women include a number of firsts: the country’s first Muslim and first Native American women elected to Congress, the youngest women elected to Congress, Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman, the first woman Governor of Guam, and the first two Latina congresswomen from Texas.  
Colorado elected the country’s first openly gay Governor.
In statehouses across the country 129 LGBTQ state legislators will soon take office—including Ohio’s own Senator-Elect Nickie Antonio, who will be the state’s first openly LGBTQ State Senator.
 Shift happens. Thanks for helping it along.

On the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Rev. Evan Young, Campus Minister

Like you, I am horror-struck by the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Heart-sick, dismayed that such a thing happened, could happen, anywhere in this country but particularly in a city and community I’ve visited and loved, where people I know and love are reeling and hurting and grieving together. The impact of such a thing happening in a place of worship that serves as sanctuary and community center is beyond my power to imagine. And that all I have to offer is my sympathy seems very weak tea indeed.

There’s a temptation hiding in my response to this tragedy. I’ve heard it voiced about this tragedy, and about others as well; maybe you have too. It sounds like this: “This isn’t who we are. This doesn’t represent our community. We’re better than this.”
I understand the sentiment. I’ve shared it. I’ve said these words. But right now, in the wake of this latest act of terrorism, I’m coming to grips with its essential dishonesty. Because in fact, this is precisely who we are—who, in this historical and cultural moment, we have become.
I believe in community writ large. I believe the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue is not something that happened to that faith community, or to the community of Pittsburgh, or to the Jewish community. I believe it’s something that happened to (and in) my community—and yours. Because we’re all connected, because we’re interdependent, because the quality of community each of us enjoys depends on the quality of community all of us create.
And the fact is that the community we have all participated in creating is one in which bigotry can thrive. In our America today, it thrives to the point where bigots feel empowered to make their bigotry concrete and real in acts of violence—acts directed against people of color, against Jewish people, against LGBTQ+ people, against Muslims, against immigrants.
In a community where this is true, it’s not enough to simply be someone who doesn’t perpetrate those acts, doesn’t hold those beliefs, doesn’t say those things. It’s not enough to feel bad for the victims of those violent words and deeds, to send them thoughts and prayers, to long for a better time past or future. When we say we “stand with,” we must mean that we “act with,” and “advocate for,” those among us who are suffering. And that we “engage with,” and “differ with,” and disrupt the empowerment of those who would, and do, oppress through their power and privilege and bias.
When I talk about resistance, this is what I mean. Not resisting the rule of a politician, or a party, with whom I disagree. My resistance is about resisting—and confronting, and combating—ideas and actions and worldviews that presume humanity is rightly divided into a favored “us” and a disfavored, less-than-human “them” upon whom the favored can practice all manner of oppression. That’s what the gunman did this weekend; that’s what the pipe-bomb-mailer has been doing; that’s what “proud boys” all over the country are doing; that’s what our nationalist-in-chief is advocating when he proclaims himself a nationalist. And my resistance to what they’re all doing springs from a deeper well than my political affiliation. It springs from my faith, from the way I understand our participation in a larger whole of which we are part, on which we depend, and for the well-being of which we are therefore obliged to work.
Resistance like this is ultimately an act of faith, one that requires us to start where we really are and move toward a better, wholer, holier vision. It means embracing the possibility that this is, in fact, who we now are—however horrifying that prospect might be. And then throwing your body and soul into moving us all in the direction of the community we could be, because to do less would be to deny who you are, and whose you are.

On “trans*”

This week began with news of an ongoing effort within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to roll back recognition of and protection for trans* people under federal civil rights law, by defining “sex” as either male or female (i.e., binary), unchangeable, and determined by the genitals a person is born with. According to a New York Times story published on October 21, the Department specified their proposed redefinition in a memo drafted this spring and circulated since then: “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth. . . . The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” 

To put it as clearly as possible: we at UCM believe this is wrong. And hateful. And hurtful. And we will neither accept, nor support, nor comply with it. Trans* friends, we see you, we welcome you, and we affirm, support, and defend your right to be fully and fearlessly who you are. For us this is a moral, ethical, and spiritual commitment that goes beyond politics. And we deplore both the dehumanizing intent and effect of this proposed move, and the cynical use of gender identity as a political wedge issue to manipulate voting blocs. Good people don’t treat real people this way. And we’re here for everything that will make this better.

On the Approaching Election
Rev. Evan Young, Executive Director

In this election season, there’s something I want to make sure to say to you.

Voting is highly recommended. 

Not because it’s the be-all and end-all of participatory democracy, not because it’s some panacea that holds out the promise of curing all our nation’s ills. I’m well aware of the significant flaws in our democratic process, as currently practiced. Well aware of the interests it weights too heavily, well aware of the interests it excludes from the conversation, well aware of the corrosive influence of money and its erosion of the power of our representative democracy to . . . well, represent.

I still highly recommend that you vote. Because it’s a gateway activity to the kind of engagement and activism for social justice out of which real change can emerge. Take the time to become educated about the choices on offer in this election season–both candidates and issues. Let your research stimulate questions and lead you into reflection on the world we have, the world you want to see, and what it’s worth to you to take action to move us in the direction of your vision. Let your reflection lead you into action, collaboration, and deeper, more interdependent relationship with people who share your vision (or who embrace a vision you had never imagined before that fills you with hope for the future). 

Voting is the low bar, the entry point, the first step on the path toward engaged, informed, contributing citizenship in our community, our nation, the world. So do it. And be advised–since our current leaders are invested in limiting access to the means of participation (i.e., voting) particularly in strongly liberal/progressive areas (like Athens), you should take advantage of the opportunity to cast your vote early (for days, times, and locations click here). Avoid long lines and make sure your vote is cast, recorded, and counted. And then . . . get to work.

Better Together’s Multicultural History Tour

Hello, all! Join us at the Multicultural Genealogical Center in Chesterhill, Ohio for Better Together’s Multicultural History Tour on October 20th from 12 PM-5:30 PM! We will be learning about the center’s work in documenting the history of multicultural and multiracial communities in Southeast Ohio while sprucing up and organizing the center’s space, collections, and grounds.

The Multicultural History Tour serves as the first Better Together service day of the 2018-2019 school year. After a successful eighth annual 9/11 Interfaith Peace Walk, UCM interns Samantha Houtchens and Saraya Abner look forward to introducing new programming during the Better Together campaign that engages students in educational, service, and community-building work to build relationships across faith divides, celebrate all faith and philosophical worldviews, and express common values.

If you want to take a break from that Homecoming football game to learn more about the history of people and communities of color in Southeast Ohio, or if you are interested in becoming involved with the Better Together campaign, please reach out to samantha.houtchens@gmail.com or sa884915@ohio.edu. Transportation and a light snack will be provided for the tour, but volunteers are being accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis, so RSVP soon!