On Saturday June 16th the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry, many in Aberdeen who support those homeless working to find safe housing solutions and to defend their rights, and myself, joined with our ministry in Aberdeen and Westport, Chaplains on the Harbor, to view the encampments along the river, to tour the offices of Chaplains on the Harbor, and to march through the streets of Aberdeen in both protest of the newly passed laws forbidding lying down or camping on the streets, and in hopes of seeing where solutions might be found.
Of all the busy days we put in with our very generous Presiding Bishop I think this visit may have been one of the most powerful, for him, and for those who walked with us that day. After leaving the big event in Olympia we traveled toward Aberdeen, with a stop at the 3 acre farm, just outside Montesano, which Chaplains on the Harbor has leased and is now being worked by several apprentice farmers who were once on the streets and are now working this new enterprise. Here is a wonderful story in the local paper about one of them.
I was there several months ago to bless the land and these farmers, and it was so good to bring our Presiding Bishop along to see crops now coming out of the ground! Several of the apprentices were just back from the other Washington, (DC that is!) where they testified before a Senate hearing on the issue of homelessness.
This farm is a true inspiration. You can learn more by visiting their website, and I encourage you to do it, and to consider buying a share, enjoying their produce by doing so, or donating that food to those who need it. From there we traveled on to Aberdeen to meet up with the group gathered at Jay’s Fruit stand, now becoming a very familiar spot to gather.
There we started our march to the river encampment, where just weeks before I had also walked with Bishop William Barber, and now with our Presiding Bishop.
The agenda we had for that day, and had presented to the Presiding Bishop months before, included just what we did. The Presiding Bishop came to Aberdeen to see a problem, and to pray for it, to preach to the people being affected by it, which in the end, is everyone there, even those who wish this would all go away. He was not surprised and or daunted by anything we did on that visit. This Presiding Bishop, just days before, was at the head of march and prayer vigil to the White House, as he and the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners launched “Reclaiming Jesus.” He knows about marching in the streets. He was compelled to be at the White House for that march and he was just as compelled to be on the streets of Aberdeen walking in solidarity with those who live on the margins not only of the society of Aberdeen but of this country we share.
The division in Aberdeen is as clear as it is anywhere else in the country.
There is a balance here. I hope we will keep trying to find it. The good of Aberdeen and so many other towns like it all across this state and country depend on us to do that. Demonizing one another is not going to do it. Our government will not make this happen. I don’t even think our churches can make this happen. It will take each of us, personally, prayerfully, to decide we are not going down that road. It will take each of us to actually assume the best in others, not start with assuming the worst. What we are asking for is that elected officials, people that share this community with these people, are their neighbors, take the problem and the possible solutions seriously. (and by the way this is the kind of neighbor Jesus was talking about, and that Scripture talks about, not all those you have chosen to converse with and have decided match who you would be neighbor too) We are asking that it be agreed that every person deserves some place to call home and that every person has a humanity that should be treated with dignity and respect. And yes, that is not just an issue for Aberdeen, but one for our whole country.
There are some that will point to what was wrong with that day, and that march, but I would say there was far more good coming from Aberdeen. Far more people honked their approval, gave the thumbs up, came out and even marched along side for a while. One incident in particular made my day and that of the Presiding Bishop. The wonderful women of Cake Cakes cupcake shop, (107 E. Wishkah St.) who upon seeing this crowd of us go by, did not retreat, did not hide inside hoping no one would see, they came out, and crossed the streets, with trays full of cupcakes, to literally feed their neighbors. When those ran out, they ran in for more.
At the end of the march the Native Drummers present blessed the Presiding Bishop, and me, and gave us gifts. They shared their blessings and it was a very profound moment. We were especially inspired by April who spoke such compelling words of hope even in the face of the harassment she has faced. That is what I am taking away. That is what I will remember that day. That, I believe, is who we are as a nation. That is what I believe, when good people attempt to find the goodness in themselves, but especially in those around them, will prevail if we all try to recognize it and also be part of it.
The Presiding Bishop who was present for all of this that day left with a good impression of Aberdeen as I have always done too. The struggles there are deep and dividing indeed, but they are not any different than most of this country we share. This same Presiding Bishop preached at the royal wedding, and on the steps of Aberdeen City Hall. It is said that every preacher really preaches one sermon, with different words, but the same ultimate meaning. I believe these two, the royal wedding, and that city hall sermon were the same sermon, with different words, but the same. They were both about the Power of Love and not just the love we tend to oversentimalize as he puts it, the syrupy love of romantic novels, or Jr. High love, but the love that requires something of ourselves, that requires sacrifice, and generosity, and giving up on our own selfish desires. I encourage you to listen to them both.
It was a good day in Aberdeen. I was surprised by nothing we did or were asked to do, I was moved my much, I left sad, but hopeful for the days to come and convinced there is enough good in that town, and in all of us, to change this and so much more.
Royal Wedding Sermon
Sermon on the steps of Aberdeen City Hall