• Opening to the World

    Opening to the World

    The Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. A Harlem neighborhood in New York City. The capital of South Africa. A small Palestinian town just east of Bethlehem. We help care for – and join in fellowship with – people of diverse faiths across the country and around the globe.

    Believing in God’s love, as shown through Jesus Christ, we engage in Mission. We believe Mission is a partnership that requires reaching beyond ourselves. We believe that this involves active listening and mutual sharing, being willing to learn from others, increasing opportunities for involvement, working with others for justice.

    We do this with profound love, profound humility and profound hope.

GREEN GRASS CHURCH: Our Work on a Reservation

slider3Our partnership with the Green Grass Church began in 1985 when their minister, Henry Good Bear, visited our congregation and shared his dreams and vision for the future of their community.  We then helped finance construction of a new church building large enough to accommodate their youth ministries, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and other fellowship activities. During the ensuing decades of this partnership, over 300 members and friends of our church have traveled to South Dakota to learn, share and further strengthen the bonds of friendship between our two congregations.  During our visits, we have also had the privilege of participating in sacred Lakota rituals such as the Sweat Lodge Ceremony, the Sun Dance and Vision Quest while several members of our church have even been honored with their own Lakota names.

Likewise, our congregation has been blessed by visits from many members of the Green Grass community who have shared with us their history, culture, hopes and dreams.  A recent addition to our partnership has been a Morningstar summer camp where our youth enjoy an educational experience with youth from the reservation. 

Another important aspect of our partnership is Tribal Crafts, Inc.  Recognizing that the Green Grass community is not on a well-travelled tourist route and wishing to affirm and celebrate the traditional skills for which the Lakota are known, we established a nonprofit organization that buys and sells the beautiful Star quilts, jewelry and other crafts and works of art made by our Native American friends.

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Following the tragedy of 9/11, our Board of Deacons raised the question, “Where do we go from here?”  Recognizing the fundamental role of religion in the Middle Eastern conflicts, it was determined that we needed to not only encourage unity among Christian communities but also help to build more of an interfaith community in Southeastern Connecticut in order to constructively address those conflicts.

These discussions ultimately led to the “World House Journey to Israel and Palestine” – a group led by the ministers of our church and the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut and comprised of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Native American representatives.  During this journey, we established a special friendship with Beit Sahour, a small predominantly Christian community neighboring Bethlehem in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank.  Since 2004, we have welcomed many young Palestinians musicians from Beit Sahour and other communities, who have performed wonderful concerts at special events.

Each year the Tree of Life Educational Fund, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established by the FCCOL, organizes a journey to Israel and Palestine.  On these journeys we strengthen our friendship with the community of Beit Sahour as well as with organizations such as the Bereaved Parents’ Circle and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions that are working together for a more just and peaceful world.  We also hold an annual interfaith Tree of Life Conference in Old Lyme and a number of other venues that brings together Jewish, Muslim and Christian voices of conscience and hope from Israel, the U.S. and the occupied territories.

Our journeys and conferences have led us to work with and provide support for organizations at home such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as well as those providing humanitarian relief such as the Middle East Children’s Alliance in Gaza.  We also provide scholarship assistance to students at the Shepherd’s Field School of Beit Sahour, the Mar Elias School in Galilee and Bethlehem University.

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The Crosby Fund for Haitian Education was founded in 2004 by Rebecca and Frederick Crosby and was inspired by the lack of affordable educational opportunities for young people in Haiti and the Crosbys’ conviction that the country’s future depends on educating their youth.  The Fund provides assistance to academically promising students from the Artibonite Valley who could not otherwise afford to attend school, in the hope of preparing them for post-secondary education and careers within Haiti.  For each student, the Fund pays full tuition, purchases books and uniforms and pays exam fees.

In 2006, the program was expanded to include university scholarships and, in 2009, the Fund began to provide scholarships for technical schools.  Most recently, in 2012, the program expanded yet again to include primary school, and there are currently 336 students, from first grade through university, receiving scholarship support from The Crosby Fund.  Participants in the program must remain in good academic standing in order to receive continued support during the following year.  They are also encouraged to be outstanding members of their communities through volunteer participation in much-needed projects.

The Fund has offices and staff in both Deschapelles and Port-au-Prince and the Crosbys travel regularly to Haiti to oversee operations.  In the past several years, groups of high school students from our congregation have made the journey with the Crosbys during the April school vacation.  Both our Mission Board and our LBS have provided generous support for the Fund, and when the Crosbys travel to Haiti, they bring clothing made by our LBS Sewing Group.  The Crosbys hope to bring more members of the church with them on future trips.  Our concern for the people of Haiti also led our Board of Missions to establish a micro-lending grant twice, at $5,000 each time, through FINCA, an international leader in Micro-lending banking.

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In 1988, at the height of the power of the apartheid government, David Good and Carleen Gerber travelled to South Africa as part of a Plowshares Institute delegation that met with Rev. Paul Verryn who was, at that time, the only white minister serving a church in Soweto.  Paul also lived in Soweto and offered sanctuary within his home to boys and young men who had been detained and tortured by the South African government.  When Paul’s life was threatened, our church invited him to come to Old Lyme for a sabbatical.

Based on the strength of these experiences, we entered into a partnership with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, first in Soweto and later, when Paul Verryn became a bishop, with Central Methodist Mission, a church in downtown Johannesburg.  It was in this downtown church that Paul offered sanctuary to more than 3,000 refugees, many of them fleeing political persecution in Zimbabwe.

Since 1989, there have been numerous beneficial and enriching exchanges that have further strengthened the bonds of friendship, mutual support and encouragement that exist between our two communities.  Bishop Verryn is a frequent visitor and, in 2001, Rev. Derick Maregele, from Central Methodist Mission, moved with his family to Old Lyme and served our congregation for two years as Minister of Visitation.    In 2002, over 35 members of our church together with members of the Central Methodist Mission congregation participated in a Jimmy Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity.  2,000 volunteers convened from around the world and built 100 houses in one week.  Our group was very happy to have been responsible for the construction of 7 of those new homes!

We have since been honored by a visit from 53 members of the Central Methodist Choir who thrilled us with their music.  Mxolisi Duda, a talented tenor from South Africa, has been sponsored by members of our church for 8 years of graduate education in music in this country.  Mxolisi is now Director of an indigenous singing group at the University of Pretoria and, during the fall of 2012 and again in 2015, young people from this group have visited Old Lyme, stayed with host families, performed at local schools and joined our congregation to sing and worship for two truly wonderful weeks. Throughout the years, the children of our church have also enthusiastically participated in the partnership, collecting and sending school supplies and exchanging art work with the children in South Africa.

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Wheels of Justice: Settler Colonialism and its Aftershocks

1. The Wheels Begin to Roll

In his literary study Beginnings, the late Edward Said cautions against trusting origin stories. He casts doubt on the possibility of achieving a beginning, for any beginning, whether that of a novel or an idea, is always a fictitious proposition. We never begin, really, but only continue, in medias res, following a story that is already underway. Every story, every idea, every institution, is merely a continuation of what already exists. And yet stories do begin. Journeys are set in motion, even if it is impossible to affix a clear origin of that story, of that journey.

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Invitation to Step Up

Our 2017 Stewardship Campaign is called “Investing in Our Church’s Life-Changing Mission” and, as part of the new campaign, we’re inviting members both old and new to “step up.” Our stewardship fund accounts for more than 4/5ths of our annual budget, supporting the vital ministries that engage and challenge us, lift our spirits and sometimes even change our lives. We welcome – and are grateful for – any and all donations.

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