Glimpses of the Beloved Community

15 Feb

Three young adult student rose to speak behind the pulpit at the Community Church of Durham, UCC.  For two of them, it was the first time ever standing before a crowd of people gathered in a church of any type.  They came to share their stories and their faith traditions.  They came to give us a glimpse into the lives of three young people, each with at least one social identity not of the majority.  They came to stand side by side, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, as witnesses to the beloved community that Dr. King so eloquently described.  They spoke with passion and poise, offering testimony, poetry, prayer and provocation as they reminded us of our common ground as people of spirit, faith and soul.

We had come together for our annual Martin Luther King Spiritual Celebration at the University of New Hampshire.  This inter-faith and multi-faith celebration has become one of the highlights of a weeklong series of events to honor the legacy of Dr. King.  The events held throughout the week serve to remember Dr. King and his work, and to continue to affirm the notions of beloved community and social justice in contemporary society.  The spiritual celebration and other events are wonderful opportunities to affirm and practice the ecumenical, inter-faith and inclusive work that we do in partnership with so many others in our community.

Throughout the service we had speakers from the Baha’i tradition, the Buddhist tradition, earth based traditions and various stripes of Christianity.  Our theme for the week was timely: “The Politics of Wealth and Economic Justice,” examining the wealth disparities in the USA and around the world.  The topic seemed to be one where spiritual and religious traditions could have something positive to offer, and to affirm Dr. King’s foundation for human rights and economic justice in his own faith and the traditions of others.  In fact, the final event of the week was a Community Call to Action, where panelists from several spiritual traditions shared perspectives on economic justice.  Their remarks led to several facilitated small circle conversation at round tables, where folks could share their own experiences, ask questions, and listen to each other.

As I listened and spoke with student, staff, faculty and community members throughout the week, I recognized that the way we were coming to inter-faith collaborations was evolving and changing.  In the past we often had various folks speak out of their tradition; now we were inviting and encouraging folks to speak from their traditions in ways that found common ground, that recognized our diversity, and that promoted unity.  We were honoring our various perspectives, philosophies, world-views and theologies by committing to solidarity on behalf of those most harmed and oppressed by a society where economic disparity is growing.

I realized that this evolution of perspective and approach was being shaped and molded by our students.  More and more, I find students from a variety of perspectives, philosophies, worldviews and spiritual traditions eager to learn about each other, and to break down the barriers constructed from centuries of fear and division.  College students on our campus are shedding labels and exploring ways to make a difference, to serve and to make the world a better place.  Even within our various Christian traditions on campus, students are leading the way and finding bridges across years of animosity and bitterness, even when their leaders are not quite “there yet.”  Once again, in this blessed, beautiful and humbling work of campus ministry, I am reminded to step back and let these beautiful young people lead, with hope, compassion and love.

Stepping out into the cold reality of a society that too often seeks to barrage and dismantle; I experience that peace that passes all understanding.  “Let them lead, Larry, let them lead.”  Moreover, I pray for the wisdom to nurture, comfort, listen and guide, and to affirm these beautiful children of God, the One, the Source, the Earth, as they seek to resurrect Dr. King’s dream of a Beloved Community.

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Reverend Larry Brickner-Wood is the Chaplain and Executive Director of the United Campus MInsitry to the University of New Hampshire.  The UCM, aka the Waysmeet Center, is an ecumenical and inter-faith ministry that has existed at UNH for over 60 years.  Larry is an orcdained minisrter in the United Chruch of Christ (UCC) and is in his 13th year at UCM.  He served previously as the Assisant Pastor at First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester, NH, and spent twenty years in another caling in local government, serving as a municipal manager for most of that time.  He has a Bachelors degree in Public Administration from James Madison Unviersity in Virginia, a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Vermont, and a Master in Divinity from Andover Newton Theolgical School.  He is married and has two sons, who are in college in West Virginia and Arizona.  He loves his work!

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