Posted by Kent Matthies on December 22, 2015 at 4:30pm
Alongside an historic drive sitting on six acres of grassy hills and live oaks our steeple reaches to the sky from lovely greening copper roof. Inside warm, brown beams and lovely stained glass windows create a sacred and lively sanctuary. The Unitarian Society of Germantown – established in 1865 – continues to celebrate our 150th anniversary. In the 1920’s due to significant growth the church moved from Germantown to this romantic spot in Mount Airy. The spirit of our church community is embedded in both beloved neighborhoods of the City of Philadelphia. Mount Airy prides itself on the hard won diversity, which people intentionally worked for over the past 65 years. Starting in the 1950’s residents fought against housing discrimination, which involved fear tactics and redlining.
Within the context of a painfully segregated America the neighborhood where USG resides – Mt. Airy – matter greatly. Mt. Airy maintains a unique and valuable integration. As of the 2010 Census, Mount Airy has 27,035 residents. 62.5% of the residents are Black or African-American, 31.7% White/Caucasian, and 5.8% are from other races or from 2 or more races. Of course, USG draws also from many other ethnically rich neighborhoods and suburbs. Our wider area also enjoys robust diversity of Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker and others.
Of course, life here is not perfect. We are anything but immune from the pains of current American life. We are just completing the year (2015) of video documentation of people of color suffering chokings and shootings by police officers around the nation in so many places most of us lose track. This year Philadelphia Police Commissioner, Charles Ramsey voluntarily asked the US Justice Department to conduct an independent investigation of the policies and practices of our Police force.
The report cited “serious deficiencies” in the department’s use of force policies and officer training. As an example of troubled results, in 2013 the overall crime rate was down, but police use of deadly force was up.
In Philadelphia blacks and whites each make up about 45 percent of the population, almost 60 percent of the officers involved in shootings between 2007 and 2013 were white, while 81 percent of suspects involved were black.
Here at the Unitarian Society of Germantown our Mission is “Building Beloved Community with compassion, service and empowerment.” We take this mission very seriously. We know it can mean the difference between life and death. As a part of our mission we believe that we are called and have the capacity to reduce violence in our neighborhoods. In recent weeks we have participated in many actions of public witness stating “We Support Our Muslim Neighbors.”
We also believe that we are called and have a capacity to alleviate the Prison-Industrial Complex one family at a time. We are working with a Black-led coalition of returning citizens advocating for the state of Pennsylvania to reduce investments in prisons and to increase job training and placement for returning citizens.
In January we will launch a specific job training and placement initiative through our Ending Racism and Coalition Against Mass Incarceration efforts. Please look for opportunities to get involved.
Within the context of the challenges of our communities at USG it is also essential that we celebrate life and goodness. We embrace a wide variety of holidays and holy days, which meet the spiritual needs and aspirations of a wide variety of people.
This year, as much as ever, we have cherished the Jewish High Holy Days, Diwali, Day of the Dead, and Thanksgiving. Two weeks ago we had a dynamic Kwanzaa servicewith the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble teaching, dancing and drumming along with the congregation.
Now many of us are longing for a fresh, spiritually strong approach to the New Year. What better way is there than to come out on the first Sunday of January at 11am for the Jazz Funeral for the Old Year?
Combining African, Caribbean, European and American cultures the Jazz Funeral honors rich histories. This service conjures back to 18th century when African slaves congregated in Congo Square – singing and dancing to the beat of African drums. Today’s celebration honors a tradition going back to burial societies, which were created by and for recently freed people of color providing spiritually vibrant send-offs. Since that era the jazz funeral has strengthened people to get through all kinds of individual and community pain and strife. No matter what our personal background or experiences most of us benefit from healing and spiritual nourishment.
Then we will go into a truly special weekend (January 9-10) with Rev. Dr. David Parke. Rev. Dr. David Parke served as Minister at USG from 1965-70. Rev. Parke’s scholarship, social and racial justice leadership and pastoral care all positively impacted many lives. It is also true that his Ministry here suffered under many of the pressures, which afflicted our nation during that era. On Saturday, January 9th at Noon we will hold a potluck lunch and conversation with David. This will be a chance for all USG people –including those who never knew David – to learn about USG history. On Sunday January 10th Rev. Parke is returning to our pulpit for the first time in 45 years. David will bring lots of love and contagious enthusiasm. Don’t miss this truly outstanding highlight of our 150th anniversary celebration!
In Faith, Kent