Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Slightly Bitter, Mostly Sweet Big Meeting

Last night’s organizational meeting for Las Vegas Valley Interfaith was on the whole a big success. I didn’t count the number of churches, mosques, and synagogues present but it was by far the largest yet – and the diversity is increasing. The evening began with music from a great Gospel Choir singing “How Excellent Is Thy Name.” Then Dr. Aslam Abdulah chanted the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic as our invocation. Evangelical Protestants were spontaneously murmuring surprise and appreciation of that beautiful gesture. Roman Catholic Bishop Pepe was there with a pledge of $60,000 in support of our efforts. We heard moving stories from real people about real life challenges in the Valley. I gave it my best shot to explain how broad-based community organizing changes communities at a deeper level than charity or single issue advocacy. People seemed to get it. I got Amens and was interrupted by applause, which feels good anytime but especially when it’s the teaching piece of the program. We received in one night half the pledges we need for the funds we have to raise by May.

I was so proud of the turnout from our Latino/ Hispanic congregations! They may well have had the strongest turnout of any congregation of any denomination. Without them the attendance would have been disappointing. With them, it was something to celebrate. I'd call them playmakers. Fr. Hilario, Fr. Bernardo, and Dee had speaking parts done to perfection. Fr. Bernardo is going to Phoenix in the next couple of weeks to be trained as a community organizer.

I was especially pleased to see a strong turnout of lay people from both St Thomas’ and St. Luke’s along with their priests. Fr. Tim told me afterward he would be taking this mission to the St. Thomas’ vestry so they can decide how best to support Las Vegas Valley Interfaith. It is inspiring and deeply gratifying to see St. Thomas moving on from a leadership role in our recent convention to a leadership role in our most important social ministry in the southern half of the diocese. Christ Church, Las Vegas was also present, represented by three clergy and a clergy spouse.

There is much to celebrate for the mission, which I am confident will transform the character of the Las Vegas Valley in the profound way that can be accomplished only by an interracial, non-partisan, interfaith coalition. This is exciting.

Personally, I also feel rather like President Obama the day after the mid-term elections. The absence of most of our Episcopal churches, including some I had expected to be on board, is definitely a message – I’m just still sorting out what it is. Shakespeare said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men (sic) which when caught at the flood leads on to destiny.” I saw that tide last night, saw it growing deeper, wider, stronger – and saw most of our congregations missing it. I feel responsible for that but am not at all sure what to do next. Thankfully, two of my colleagues may be showing me the way.

The Rev. Candace Lansberry, District Superintendant for this district of the United Methodist Church; Fr. Bob Stoekig, pastor of Holy Spirit Roman Catholic Church in Boulder City (he spoke to our deacons earlier this year); and I will be meeting soon to talk about how to introduce the same listening process within our parishes that we have used to build our interfaith organization. Perhaps that process will deepen relationships in the congregations turn the ignition for participation in our religiously pluralistic community. In the meantime, I’ll keep my hand on the plough and hold this in prayer along with our other diocesan missions, all our congregations and their leaders both lay and ordained.

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