• 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. The Artibonite Valley in Haiti. 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

Our church’s first partnership began in 1985 with the Green Grass Church on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Henry Good Bear, the church’s minister, came and shared with our congregation his vision for the Green Grass Church – a new church building that would be large enough for youth ministries, Alcoholic Anonymous meetings and fellowship activities. In a spirit of partnership, we agreed to help finance that project.

Since 1985, more than 300 members of our congregation have traveled to South Dakota to learn, share and further strengthen the bonds of friendship between our two communities. During our visits, we have had the privilege of participating in sacred Lakota rituals, such as the Sweat Lodge Ceremony and the Sun Dance; and several members of our church have even been honored with their own Lakota names.

Our congregation has been blessed in return by visits from many members of the Green Grass community, who have shared with us their history, culture, hopes and dreams. Several have also taken part in our mission journeys to South Africa, Israel and Palestine. A recent addition to our ongoing partnership has been the Morning Star Camp, where our local youth enjoy an educational experience with youth from the reservation.

Another important component of our partnership is Tribal Crafts, Inc., a nonprofit organization that buys and sells beautiful star quilts, jewelry and other crafts made by our Native American friends. Since the Green Grass community is not on a well-traveled tourist route, the Tribal Crafts mission is to help affirm, share and celebrate the traditional skills for which the Lakota are known.

To learn more about Tribal Crafts or to make a purchase, please visit the Tribal Crafts website, Etsy Shop or Facebook page.

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TREE OF LIFE FUND

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Our Work in Palestine and Israel

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 Middle Eastern conflicts, it was determined that we needed to not only encourage unity among Christian communities, but also help 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” – an overseas visit led by the ministers of our church and the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut. The original group of travelers included people with a variety of beliefs – Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Native American.

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. .

In 2002, we established the Tree of Life Educational Fund – a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide cross-cultural opportunities that educate and enlighten our congregation and local community, and help foster a more just and peaceful world.

Each year, the Fund organizes a new journey to Israel and Palestine. On these journeys, we continue to strengthen and deepen our friendship with the community of Beit Sahour. Since 2004, we have welcomed a number of young Palestinians musicians from Beit Sahour and other communities, who have performed wonderful concerts at special events here in Connecticut and, sometimes, across the U.S.

Through the Fund, we have established partnerships with charitable organizations both abroad (the Shoruq Organization, the Parents Circle/Family Forum, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) and at home (the Middle East Children’s Alliance, the Council on American-Islamic Relations).

Our church also holds Tree of Life events throughout the year that bring together Jewish, Muslim and Christian voices of conscience from across the U.S., Israel and the occupied territories; and provides scholarship assistance to students at Bethlehem University.

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CROSBY FUND

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Our Work in Haiti

The Crosby Fund for Haitian Education was founded in 2004 by Rebecca and Frederick Crosby, out of their concerns over the lack of affordable educational opportunities for young people in Haiti.

The Crosbys were convinced that the country’s future depended on educating its youth, so they established a Fund that provides full scholarships to academically promising students from the Artibonite Valley who could not otherwise afford to attend school. The scholarships aim to prepare these students for post-secondary educations and careers within Haiti. For every student selected, the Fund provides full tuition, the required books and school uniform, and also covers all exam fees.

When the program first began, the Fund was only able to offer scholarships to 36 high school students; today, it offers almost 400 scholarships that enable students to attend schools that include everything from kindergartens and primary schools, up through technical schools and bachelor-degree university programs. All students attend schools in Haiti.

In addition, every summer since 2013, the Crosbys have led an annual trip to Haiti for local students in grades 9-12. More than 50 area students have participated in this transformative and engaging experience. The teens participate in arts and craft projects, offer English tutoring, play soccer with Haitian teens, deliver handmade clothing to children, visit schools and learn about the lives of rural Haitians. The experience provides a great way for them to become more engaged in understanding and helping solve the problems of the world – by engaging in hands-on activities with Haitian teens and witnessing firsthand the poverty in this developing country.

In January of 2017, the Crosbys opened a new Education Center for the Fund in Deschapelles, Haiti. The Center’s focus is on providing daily tutoring classes, teacher training and literacy programs. It also provides a permanent home for the Fund’s scholarship work, with offices for staff, classrooms and a computer lab. Our church will be working closely with the Fund to leverage the Center’s capabilities to provide additional educational opportunities to adults.

Both our Mission Board and our Ladies Benevolent Society (LBS) have provided generous support for the Fund. The Mission Board has twice established a micro-lending grant of $5,000 to benefit Haitians through an organization called FINCA, an international leader in micro-lending banking. When the Crosbys travel to Haiti, they take along clothing made by our LBS Sewing Group and other needed items donated by the Society.

You can follow the Fund’s work and accomplishments on Facebook.

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METHODIST CHURCH

Our Work in South Africa

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

Our Work Confronting Injustice

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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