5. Mission and Outreach

Our mission emphasis this fall has been on sending. We have a number of things that we do inside the building at 42 Chenango Street, or in the parking lot, but our members take service into many different places, as well. This is the story of a couple of those places.

David Ruston and Greg Patinka work with the Red Cross in disaster relief; in August they spent two weeks in Louisiana, working with people who were recovering from the summer floods, and in October David went to North Carolina to continue the work.

Imagine that you are in a shelter with 1,000 beds, in a sports arena where the bathrooms are a long walk from your bed. Where you have to go outside to a trailer to shower, and you have been living in those conditions for several weeks. Greg and David brought comfort and hope to bewildered individuals from a variety of backgrounds who were struggling to adjust after the trauma of the flood. Greg worked closely with displaced people and became a resource to people with limited mobility. David, as a social worker, was sent to various locations to assist people in understanding and responding to their new condition, helping to identify resources and training that could help them move forward.

David faced a different challenge in North Carolina, because the shelters he worked with were closing. Most of the immediate work had been done, and only those who had nowhere and no one to go to remained. David had to work with the shelter workers as well as the displaced individuals to understand and accept alternatives, so that the resources allocated for emergencies could be come available for the next crisis, and the next.

The work is not over, but the emergency has been met, and now these communities begin the slow work of rebuilding. And we are glad to have David and Greg back with us for awhile, and grateful that they have the training and the commitment to step in when the waters rise.

Pastor Kimberly answered a different call in November, when she joined with other clergy from around the country in a public witness at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Eleven people filled two vanloads and left from Stony Point Center to make the long drive; we camped in the large camp of “Water Protectors” at the junction of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers. There we sang and prayed and shared stories with people from many nations, and gathered around the ceremonial fire to formally repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, to apologize to the indigenous people, and to affirm our desire to stand with them in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Everything that was done in the camp was centered in prayer, with reverence for water and for life (the phrase “Mni Wiconi”—water is life— was repeated many times during the day, and we participated in ceremonies affirming our shared commitment, and took communion to the heavily armed security officers that had closed off an important access road to the Lakota lands. (They did not accept the offer of communion, but our leadership shared the sacrament in their presence.)

We went to the state capitol building to pray and to invite the governor of North Dakota to talk with us and pray with us, and it was there that 17 clergy and religious representatives, including Presbyterians Rick Ufford-Chase and Alison Harrington, were arrested.

The important thing about the trip was a sense of connection to people who are bearing witness to the need to protect our most fragile resources, including fresh water, and a chance to be present where there is great need and where individual effort is not enough. It is in partnership with others, and connection to people with different skills and abilities than are own, that we can bring about a new heaven and new earth.

Amen! May it be so.