Monday, June 29, 2015

Charleston

Dear Ones,

Something nagged at me telling me I had to travel to Charleston, South Carolina. I felt there was unfinished business for me if I did not bear witness to the church shootings at Emanuel AME. I took with me a chalice pin and a brief note written on a notecard from our Congregation. I added both to the condolences collecting outside of the church on behalf of us all.

I arrived to blocked streets, the Red Cross on site, a large police presence, and barriers creating a confusing path for all wanting to join in our final steps of our pilgrimage. Hundreds of mourners were pouring out of the church and onto the street. I didn't know that inside lay Myra Thompson, dead. She was shot and killed because her skin was black. I walked a block and joined the long line of others wanting to pay their respect. I could smell something sour, something rotten. I discovered that most of the flowers laid in the past week on the sidewalk outside of the church were in decay. The stench filled my mouth and nose and rightly so. This hateful act should smell foul and make me uncomfortable. Let it be a reminder of an unjust culture that reeks of racism.

I finally reached the church steps and climbed toward the door leading to the sanctuary. I was greeted by a member of the congregation with a kind smile and gentle hand. The stench outside had been replaced by an incredibly fresh and welcoming floral scent-obviously from the beautiful and large arrangements flanking the body of Myra Thompson. Bright light from the sanctuary chandeliers exposed the deep rich red carpets and the antiquity of the pews and other furnishings. My eyes immediately were drawn to the stained glass window that was floor to ceiling behind the pulpit. This was the pulpit that Martin Luther King, Jr. and others graced during the civil rights movement.

I began to weep humbled by the moment and the history. I passed by the body of Myra Thompson. I paused and offered words. I remembered what Myra's brother had said about her in a news article. She was a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt, and a cousin. She volunteered to teach Bible Study classes for years and had decided to teach only for a couple more weeks when she was killed. A few quick glances brought all of this rushing back to me. I could only ask myself, "why?"


I followed others to the exit and as I shared glances with those who were black I wondered if they were angry with me or if they thought I had some nerve being present. They were gracious and I was experiencing white guilt. I was feeling guilty because a white man, like myself, killed nine people of color in this church because they were black. This is the psychological cost of racism.

Racism kills all in a community one way or another. It's brutality wants us to live in fear, separated and hateful. I experienced the opposite in Charleston. I found myself within a community that will heal. A community that still holds the hope of freedom and love. Resilience is palpable. I return to my car with no words.


As I drive north I smell the scent of the sanctuary flowers on my clothes. I believe it is a reminder of Myra Thompson, the hope for justice and compassion, and a reminder that as an ally I have much to do to change a culture of hate and violence to one of acceptance and a right to live with the love of self, our family, our church, and our community. All taken from Myra Thompson and the other victims.

May we mourn and act.

Blessings, CJ

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer is Here

Dear Ones,

Summer is most definitely here. This will be my third summer in Florida and I am pleased to say I think I've adapted to the heat....somewhat! As every summer I will spend a few weeks at our home in New York. I am leaving for New York on June 30. Richard will follow two weeks later. My cousin is flying here from New York and we will drive back together. I plan on seeing friends along the way and will stop to visit the AME Congregation in South Carolina. It's an important stop for me. I simply must bare witness to this racist tragedy and worship and mourn with its people. 

I will likely return earlier than planned, as I always do. I am one to recognize when I've had enough vacation and move on. I know that it has a been a joy for the last couple of years to return to the beaches and the home we've made in Florida. I do love it here.

In my absence please do email me or call my cell phone if something big is happening or you find yourself struggling. Its no bother. The Rev. Kenneth Claus is covering for me this summer and is on call. If you need Rev. Ken please call the office to get his contact info. He's a delightful and no-nonsense minister. I know he will take care of you. 

I will be sure to send a letter each month to the Congregation. I'm reminded of each of you over the summer when I'm browsing in book stores and see a certain title, sitting with art or watching a film that I know you would love, and many other reminders. I am returning to the pulpit September 6, the official beginning of our church year. I am excited for all that we have planned for you. An exciting music program, multigenerational programming, new child and youth programs-watch for the printed brochures this week!.

We've also hired a new Nursery Staff/Teacher. Her name is Regina Baez and you will be impressed with her. Regina and her children might volunteer at the Feeding Frenzy this Saturday. Please make her feel welcome. She will be in the nursery every Sunday over the summer. What a year we will have. Until then do show up on Sundays -- there is a diverse music program and diverse speakers. 

Personnel email addresses will change effective July 1, 2015:
Rev. CJ McGregor, minister                         ministeruupb@gmail.com
Barbara Hatzfeld, office administrator         uniuni2@att.net (NO CHANGE)
Beth Mathews, Child and Youth Programs     cypuupb@gmail.com
Willie Nelson, sexton                                  sextonuupb@gmail.com
Regina Baez, nursery staff/teacher              nurseryuupb@gmail.org
Music Staff TBD                                          musicuupb@gmail.com

We will also begin using a new letterhead on July 1, 2015.  I've attached a copy.  Be sure to look top to bottom.  Maybe its just me who gets excited by such things...but you should be aware. Thank you Larry Stauber for the art.

My summer contact info:
cell  508.736.3361
email  ministeruupb@gmail.com

Be safe.  Be Cool.  Blessings to you.  Rev. CJ