Social Justice at Sojourners

Social justice is an important concern at Sojourners United Church of Christ.

Eco-Justice Outreach

Eco-Justice has spearheaded litter pick-ups in the Belmont/Carlton neighborhood where our church is located. A large group in the summer of 2013 included some of our Innisfree Village parishioners and several Church of the Brethren volunteers from a work camp at Innisfree. A passing news reporter caught the group in action.

In April 2015 the group arranged for us to see and discuss the documentary, Food Chains. In this exposé, an intrepid group of Florida farmworkers battle to defeat the $4 trillion global supermarket industry through its ingenious Fair Food program, which partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers in the United States. Next steps were discussed and implemented. For example, Sojourners are invited to hand deliver letters to specific fast food and grocery chain managers to encourage participation in the Fair Food program. Draft letters are available at the church.

During the 2015 spring meeting of the United Church of Christ’s Shenandoah Association which was held at Sojourners, a table was set up outside the church entrance with pots for participants to plants seeds. These were later delivered to Trinity Episcopal Church for its Bread and Roses initiative (a community kitchen and garden).

Sojourners have discovered a variety of ways to support the Urban Urban Agriculture Collective of Charlottesville over the years including inviting Farmer Todd to speak, providing finanacial assistance, and selling/buying goods during the Advent Fair to raise funds.

As part of our Carbon Fast Lenten series in 2013, our Eco-Justice Outreach Group began a battery recycling initiative which we continue. This is an ongoing collection of  used batteries which are taken to a local company for recycling.

Many at Sojourners participated in the UCC’s Mission 4/1 Earth campaign during Eastertide 2013. Individuals recorded the time they spent caring for the earth and the Service & Missions Committee (SAM) funded the planting of 300 trees in Kenya as part of the Green Belt Movement.

Also in 2013, we worked with LEAP (Local Energy Alliance Program) to have a free energy audit and lighting assessment so we could learn more ways to become better earth stewards.

One of our initiatives here is composting. We not only use materials generated at church, but we supply Sojourners with containers to take home, fill, and bring back to add to our compost bin. The rich earth is added to our gardens. In 2015 we grew cucumbers and tomatoes following on our rich harvest in 2014. In 2013 the gardens featured many flowers including some amazing sunflowers, and vegetables ranging from cucumbers to pumpkins. We even enjoyed our first loofah with slices sold at the annual Advent Fair! Fig trees were added to the property and have adapted to their new home wonderfully well. Our children are responsible for the drawing which they created for a “Summer Sundays” project a few years ago.

Ojola Children’s Project (OCP)

The OCP is an official project of Sojourners that assists needy children and youth in the village of Ojola in Western Kenya. The Ojola Social Justice group fund raises to provide money for school fees, food, shelter, medical care and other basic necessities for 6-8 children who have lost one or both parents. The group responds to requests from our partners in Ojola, and shares information about the challenges facing this rural East African community. Click here for more information on the Ojola Children’s Project.

Open and Affirming (ONA)

The ONA group considers how Sojourners lives out its commitment to justice, fairness, and inclusiveness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer/questioning persons. The focus is partly on our own internal practices as a congregation and partly on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity in the wider society. Working with organizations such as ROSMY and C’ville Pride has enhanced the group’s ability to affect positive change.

ONA sponsored a “Coffee Talk” in March 2015 after worship. This was one of the gatherings arranged by Equality Virginia in faith communities across the state. Transgender advocates facilitated a conversation about what it meant to be transgender and how all of us can be better advocates.

For National Coming Out Day in October 2014, ONA presented the film, Wish Me Away, about Chely Wright, “a Nashville star  [who] comes out and finds her true voice.” The crowd enjoyed a potluck before & discussion after the documentary.

Sojourners has set up a table at the annual C’ville Pride Festival since its inception in 2012. When the church helped to sponsor the festival in September 2014, ONA and other interested Sojourners offered a warm welcome, rainbow tattoos and face painting. The Cville Pride board, includes several Sojourners.

In June we celebrate Pride and on the last Sunday we hold our annual Pride Sunday with the entire service devoted to the honoring of our LGBT members and friends. In 2015 we learned nuances about terms such as “gender identity” and “gender expression” over the course of a few services. In 2014 for Pride Sunday we had special music, personal reflections and a service with the theme, “Focus on Our Families.” Sojourners were encouraged to think of family however they chose — immediate, extended, church, community — and the slide show at the end of the service depicting Sojourners’ photographs was a loving testament to that diversity. Local musician, Adrian Duke, sang a beautiful duet with Brian McCrory and we followed the service with our traditional Pride Potluck Picnic in the Park.

A couple of years we’ve been fortunate to have Tret Fure, as singer/songwriter/activist/clothing designer perform at Sojourners in a concert sponsored by ONA. Part of the proceeds from her appearance benefitted ROSMY.

Our former pastor, Melanie Miller, spoke at an event sponsored by Cville Pride on Ash Wednesday in 2014 “asking people to give up hate and take up love for Lent.” You can read one local tv station’s coverage here and see another one’s here.

In 2013 Sojourners, their family members, and friends knitted and crocheted 100+ scarves for the United Church of Christ Rainbow Scarf project. After we blessed the scarves in June they were sent-off to the UCC’s bi-annual meeting (General Synod). Every person in attendance there who pledged to take action against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender)-directed violence was given a scarf. In all 10,000 scarves were created enabling attendees to take “extras” home to expand this anti-bullying initiative even further.

Poverty & Homelessness

Beds for PACEM guestsThis group organizes our involvement with PACEM (People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry) which offers food, fellowship and overnight accommodations to those who are homeless in our community. Sojourners partners in the spring with another church in providing dinner several evenings to the men of PACEM that church is hosting. During the winter, the group  often arranges for PACEM women to be given shelter at Sojourners for a week. The Poverty Group coordinates all of the volunteer activities associated with this initiative, including: cooking and serving dinners while Sojourners of all ages offer a range of services like pedicures and haircuts and fellowship with the women in activities such as singing.

Prison Ministry Social Justice Group

This group raises awareness within the Sojourners community of the conditions of incarcerated people, and challenges they face as they reenter communities. Members advocate for people impacted by incarceration, and seek to create and maintain relationships with people who are, or have been, incarcerated and organizations that serve them within our community

PMSJ maintains an ongoing collection for the Books Behind Bars program year round and when fall rolls around each year we begin our Christmas hygiene kit and card/stamp drive for Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. For the last few years with the help of friends in the community, we have exceeded our goal of 200 assembled bags of toiletries!

In the spring of 2015 the Prison Ministry and Racial Justice Groups organized a Lenten “Clothe the Naked, Visit the Prisoner” collection. Those who participated bought new packs of socks, underwear and T-shirts, and prayed for our neighbors at Piedmont House – temporary housing for male non-violent offenders just out of incarceration. All together we collected 100 pairs of socks, 119 pairs of underwear, and 58 T-shirts.  Sojourners children offered their help by counting the items collected.

The Prison Ministry Social Justice Group plans and leads a worship service, usually in the fall. In 2014 one of the group’s members, the Rev. Lynn Litchfield, was the guest preacher. Lynn is the Director of Communication and Development for GraceInside, Virginia’s Prison Chaplain Service and a dynamic speaker. In October 2013 the sermon for the service was entitled “One Question — Why?” You may listen to that here.

Past group activities have included art and poetry exhibits by individuals who were imprisoned and  letter writing campaigns regarding incarceration and re-entry.

RACIAL JUSTICE

The Racial Justice Group takes the lead in defining what being an “anti-racist” congregation means for Sojourners. It monitors our own practices as a congregation. In general, this group is responsible for seeing to it that racial justice remains a leading concern of the congregation.

It worked with Virginia Organizing (a statewide community organizing non-profit) to help eligible voters in the commonwealth receive photo IDs. The group has participated in local marches and attended city council meetings to speak out on racial justice issues. When an African American University of Virginia student was arrested by Virginia Alcohol Beverage and Control agents who used excessive force, the group turned out at his hearings to offer support. (The charges against him were dropped.)  In May 2015 we had an adult forum after worship during which Dr. Claudrena Harold, Associate Professor at UVa, engaged in a conversation with us about how we could support African American students at the school.

In the spring the members offered a study group to anyone interested to explore the principles of non-violence.

Sojourners Racial Justice and Prison Ministry Social Justice Groups worked together to share information on the “New Jim Crow” over several Sundays in February 2015 and hosted a forum March 1 to talk about mass incarceration and ways to address the ongoing attempts to keep African Americans disenfranchised. Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, provided insight and many suggestions were generated within the congregation for next steps. Also, in February the group organized a road trip to see the Amistad Murals on display in D.C. (In February the year before the group had told us about Sojourners’ connection to the Amistad — both individual church members and the congregation as a whole. It also screened Steven Spielberg’s movie, Amistad, here for dozens of people from the church and the community. Below is a banner made by one of our members to honor this connection.

In August 2014 several Sojourners drove down to North Carolina for Franklinton Center Day. This is a significant place in the past and present of the United Church of Christ. Originally a slave plantation, after the Civil War it became Bricks School and Franklinton College, the latter one of many educational institutions for newly freed African Americans founded by the American Missionary Association.  Today it serves the local community in many ways while also serving as a gathering place for UCC people and others nationwide who work on justice issues, especially racial justice, hunger, and environmentalism. The annual event celebrated the past and present of this special place.

Dozens of people attended a free performance here in October 2013 focusing on their collective stories of immigration. The event entitled “Border Crossings” was a local expression of support for the National Day of Dignity and Respect, and was co-sponsored by Sojourners UCC Racial Justice Group; Virginia Organizing; Bama Works; University-Community Action for Racial Equity; and Casa Alma, the Charlottesville Catholic Worker community. Presence Center for Applied Theatre Arts facilitated the sharing of the immigration experiences which created America: stories of welcome, exclusion, culture-shock, and gratitude. Participants were invited to listen, tell or read stories, and reflect on what it means to come to the United States from another culture. They used playback theatre to reflect on the diverse memories, emotions and expectations, and employed visual projection to portray America’s long history of welcome and exclusion of immigrants. The event culminated with action steps.

Members of this group were instrumental in Charlottesville Dialogue on Race activities and in 2005 several Sojourners and other concerned members of the community formed theAfrican American Teaching Fellows whose mission is to recruit, support, develop and retain a cadre of African American teachers to serve Charlottesville and Albemarle County schools. Many Sojourners continue to be involved with this non-profit by serving on the board, on the staff and contributing in a variety of ways to its work and fundraisers. In fact AATF’s annual fundraising event, the John E. Backer Legacy Dinner, honors the late Sojourner, Lt. Col. John Edward Baker, a community leader and champion of education.

“What does God require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

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On February 8, 2014 eleven people representing Sojourners participated in the Moral March in North Carolina, along with an estimated 80,000-100,000 others from around the country. The march was sponsored by the NC NAACP with the purpose of protecting liberty and justice for all. Participating in the march was a way to honor Dr. King’s birthday and commemorate Black History Month. They also marched to protest the oppressive laws recently passed by the NC legislature, particularly the draconian voter suppression laws that largely affect African Americans.

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The Washington Post covered the march and several Sojourners were prominently featured in the photograph shown at the end of the article. You can see that for yourself below.

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In October 2013 local members of Faithful America  led by our former pastor, the Rev. Dr. Melanie Miller, presented a petition to the 5th district congressman urging him to push for an end to the government shutdown. At that time over 33,000 people had already signed the petition which argued that it hurts those who are the most vulnerable in our society. It included this quote from James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” Television coverage from NBC 29 offered more on this story.

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Also that month, several Sojourners arranged a Health Care Law forum providing people an opportunity to tell their stories. Claire Curry, an attorney at the Legal Aid Justice Center at the time, presented an overview of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) followed by questions from the audience. Harold Folley of Virginia Organizing explained the Charlottesville Coalition — several groups working together to educate people about the ACA and helping them enroll in the Marketplace. “Navigators” engaged in individual sessions explaining how to enroll and answering specific questions.

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The Carnival de Resistance chose Sojourners as one of two Virginia locations for its run. In addition to the midway, performances, and community initiatives, the Carnival crew participated in two church services — leading the hymns, performing a dance derived from Native American tradition and teaching Sunday School. Because of the Carnival, Dr. Jim Perkinson, Professor of Ethics and Systematic Theology came to Sojourners to deliver a sermon. Check out some of themusic and sermon   from the service September 29, 2013.

The Carnival Crew (twenty+ courageous artists and activists) literally camped out at Sojourners for ten days. Members of the church and the wider community were invited to join in the festivities, creatively connecting stories of the Biblical prophets with environmental justice. During the weekdays, the crew was out in the community offering gifts of mini-murals at Casa Alma, mask-making at the Boys & Girls Club, West African drumming at Clark Elementary School, support for various community gardens and a sing-along at the Haven.

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Over the years several Sojourners have demonstrated for the Living Wage campaign at the University of Virginia. According to its website, the Living Wage Campaign “calls on the University of Virginia to recognize that all of the people employed by the University, including contract workers, are worthy of investment.”

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