PPF Activists Council and Another Day to Make the Wrong Things Right
By Beth Foster, Co-Director, Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center
First there were freedom songs, expressions of gratitude to the ancestors, a remembrance that we stood on sacred ground stolen from the indigenous people of North Carolina, and libations of blessings sprinkled on the dozens of worshipers – activists, visiting clergy, neighbors, and friends who live in the streets of Asheville. Only then did the Rev. Amy Cantrell begin the Sunday morning sermon in the brisk outside air on the lawn of the BeLoved House April 3.
Amy passed around a basket of stones and each person was asked to take one. As we celebrated the season of resurrection, as we celebrated the season of liberation, Amy asked each of us to hold our stone and think about what it was in our own lives that was keeping the stone in place and keeping us from freedom.
Sunday morning worship with the BeLoved community was the final meeting of a three-day Presbyterian Peace Fellowship Activists Council and Peace Communities gathering in Asheville, N.C.
I came to the Montreat Conference Center for the beginning of the gathering on Thursday, March 31, exhausted and frustrated and unsure about my work after a long winter at the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center and a nasty political season both in Tennessee and the nation. I came following a season in which I felt we'd had few victories and many defeats. I was having my doubts about any of us being able to make positive change in the world.
Those three days of being surrounded by the hope and inspiration of people doing the work now, and those who had done it for generations and generations, was just what I needed to revive my spirit and make me believe that we are working toward the reality of the “world as it should be.”
Throughout our three days, we talked about faith-based organizing, creation justice and how to challenge suffering and oppression in our own communities and around the world.
Each day of the gathering was grounded in a sacred time of worship that expressed our desires for justice and peace, and that both healed and inspired. We celebrated MaryAnn Harwell's many years of work with the the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and we celebrated the beginning of the next season of her life as she begins her retirement.
On Saturday, we joined the BeLoved community in a protest of housing injustice in Asheville, as the #HomelessVoices project asked the city to give just 1-cent from its tourism tax to provide housing for people who live in the city.
“Penny for Housing Street Action” highlighted the disparity of hotel room costs and the cost of housing in Asheville. Last year, the Buncombe County Tourism and Development Board won a two-cent increase in the hotel tax while choosing not to share a penny of that for housing. We joined BeLoved and many folks who are without housing as a line of pennies was laid from the Visitors' Center to the new Hyatt hotel, symbolizing the many whose bodies are on the streets due to the lack of affordable housing.
As the line of pennies crossed highways and sidewalks and drew closer to the front doors of the Hyatt, police were called. When officers arrived, Amy told them why we were doing what we were doing, and that we had indeed trespassed. She asked them to join with us in prayer.
And they did.
Later that evening, we spent time learning about the New Sanctuary Movement and how each of us can be part of challenging mass incarceration, private prisons and a brutal immigration system.
The words of Queen Mother, one of the members of the BeLoved community, have echoed in my mind each morning since the Activists Council. That Sunday morning, as worship began on Amy's lawn, Queen Mother reminded us to be grateful for each new day.
“God has given us another day to make the wrong things right,” Queen Mother said.
And, as long as we have that and each other and the courage to take our pennies to the front doors of the empire, perhaps it is enough to hold back the overwhelming despair that can come when we think about all the wrongs that need to be made right.