Letter to the editor: Clergy committed to undoing injustice everywhere

A MESSAGE OF love replaced a swastika drawn on the sidewalk in front of the Congregational Church of Middlebury earlier in the day on June 5. Photo courtesy Danielle Stillman

The Congregational Church is a physical and social anchor to the town of Middlebury.  We can orient ourselves by its spire. It houses weekly Community Suppers for those who need them, convenes and hosts Community Conversations about issues that affect all of us, and is a place of worship and profound connection for many.

On Friday, June 5, a swastika was discovered chalked onto the sidewalk right below the sign for the church. We strongly believe that this symbol of the Nazi party and their desire for an Aryan nation, cleansed of anyone not of their race — including Jews, LGBTQ people, disabled people and Roma people (“gypsies”) — was put there to try to intimidate a church that stands for community, connection, and justice for all people, and, in the past weeks, especially justice for Black people. 

The swastika has often been used specifically to target and intimidate Jews, even in our own town of Middlebury, and news of this recent event may feel especially traumatic to the Jewish community. Nevertheless, although white supremacy and anti-Semitism go hand in hand, we ask the community to consider that perhaps this swastika was meant for all of us. Perhaps it was meant to intimidate anyone who is taking a stand against racism. Perhaps its purpose was to target anyone who believes in striving for justice for all people regardless of what color they are, where they come from, what religion they practice or don’t practice, what abilities they have, and whom they love.

While this hateful act was likely intended to intimidate, we, the Middlebury Clergy Association refuse to be intimidated. We take this act as a call to continue to lead our communities to stand against hate everywhere. We recognize that in this particular moment, we are all especially called to speak out against anti-Blackness, something to which we are deeply committed. We are grateful for the college students from the Congregational Church who organized “Chalk Up Middlebury for Black Lives Matter” on June 5. Quite profoundly, they reclaimed the space where the swastika was drawn with words that said, “Love Lives Here.”

More broadly, as religious communities have done through the ages, we are committed to undoing injustice whenever and wherever we find it. An event like this, regardless of the perpetrator’s intentions, challenges all of us to look deeply into our own hearts, to examine our own lingering feelings of ill-will, and to commit to disrupting the pattern of violence in our world. We are inspired that so many are already joined in common cause to do this essential work.

In Solidarity,

Middlebury Area Clergy Association (MACA)

Tom Baskett

Middlebury Friends Meeting

Joshin Byrnes

Guiding Teacher, Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community

Rev. Daniel Cooperrider Weybridge Congregational Church

Rev. Barnaby Feder 

Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society

Tim Franklin

 Pastor, Bridport Congregational Church

Rev. Elizabeth Gleich

 Associate Pastor, Congregational Church of Middlebury, UCC

Rebecca Kneale Gould Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Middlebury College, Havurah of Addison County member, Vermont Interfaith Power and Light board member

Saifa Hussain 

Associate Muslim Chaplain, Middlebury College

Sarit Katzew 

Director of Education/Program & Outreach Coordinator, Havurah Jewish Congregation of Addison County

Mark R. Orten 

Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, Middlebury College

Rev. Andrew Nagy-Benson, Senior Pastor, Congregational Church of Middlebury, UCC

The Very Rev. Diane Nancekivell

Interim Ministry Team member, St Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Rabbi Danielle Stillman Rabbi/Associate Chaplain, Middlebury College

Rev. Matthew von Behrens Chaplain, University of Vermont Health Network – Porter Hospital/Helen Porter Rehabilitation and Nursing

Larry Yarbrough

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100