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Street corner vigils call for the common good, engage passersby

On first Sundays, participants in Spirit Workshops and others at University Congregational UCC (UCUCC) in Seattle ground themselves in prayer in the church’s narthex and then head out to stand on the four corners 15th Ave. and  NE 45th St., the busiest intersection in Seattle’s University District.

Cecelia Frye is a regular attender of Spirit Workshops and the Calling for the Common Good vigils.
Photo courtesy of Beth Amsbary

From noon to 1 p.m., they stand with signs, wave, chat with passers by and engage in neighborly interaction, before heading back to the church for “a cuppa” and to debrief.

They call the vigils “Calling for the Common Good,” said Beth Amsbary, convener of the church’s Spirit Workshops and philanthropy manager for seven years at the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

“We first called them ‘Standing for the Common Good,’ but realized the ‘ablist’ wording might leave out someone in a wheel chair,” she said.

Participants bring signs to share their positive vision for the world:  “Home for All,” “Safe Schools,” “DACA for Dreamers,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Peace” and “Kindness.”

They hold signs saying what they want for the common good. People passing wave, honk or say it’s a good idea.

University UCC and Spirit Workshops organize the vigils.

Spirit Workshops began in February 2017 to offer programs exploring spiritual practices for people of all beliefs.

After a year-old church plant at University UCC closed when its leader left, Beth, who was on the committee for that project, was asked to discern other prototypes. 

She conversed with 20 people, asking, “What do you thirst for?  What do you think the world needs?  What do you enjoy doing? What do you hate doing?”

As they were formulating the idea of a spiritual community focusing on practices, not dogma, UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer’s book, Beyond Resistance, came out with similar proposals.

“We decided to convene people of all beliefs in a sacred space, but we also wanted to be active,” Beth said.  “In the traditional church, worshipers are recipients, listening and singing, having a spectator experience like in a theater.”

The group wanted to have activity, reflection, sharing in small groups, a sacred snack and opportunity to “try on” and practice tools of spiritual life. So they called the project “Spirit Workshop.”

Their “trying on” the spiritual tools of others recently included a session on the science and culture of tea with Thich Nhat Hanh, meditating on mindfully drinking tea.

Participants explore a theme for one to four weeks: “Drawing as Meditation,” “Local Walks to Justice Shrines” or “Blessing the Bicycles.”

“We journey inward—creatively connecting with deeper selves and bigger truths,” she said.  “Then we journey outward. Our aim is for each person who participates in a workshop to leave grounded and strengthened, better able to act in accord with the sacredness of our world.”

“The core group of eight to 30 people come for one workshop or a season,” Beth said.

They decided to meet at the church rather than at a non-church setting for consistency and to save money.

Beth said that Spirit Workshops help participants reflect on how to become the change they want to be in the world.

“They help us deepen contact with our wisdom, and bring life to our daily work in the world,” she said.

So this year, they added Vigils for the Common Good.

“Standing on the street corner, however, is not enough,” said Beth, who has attended UCUCC for 20 years.  She grew up in an Episcopal church in Champagne, Ill., and moved to Seattle in 1987 to start a theatre company to make the world better.

“Theatre and church do the same thing in that they present a wonderful story and offer an opportunity to engage in meaningful reflection on the world and our place in it,” she said. “For me, making theatre and liturgy go side-by-side.

“We need to be relevant to the urgency of our time of economic, environmental and social imbalance and injustice. The earth is crying out,” she said. “Spirit Workshops empower and encourage us to be part of the healing.

“Martin Luther King Jr., spoke of the “fierce urgency of now” for discerning how to engage in the world.  The Spiritual Workshops and Vigils for the Common Good are part of that experience.

From 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, April 15, UCUCC, 4515 16th Ave. NE, plans a program on “When Your Map Doesn’t Work.”  Beth said, “On the trail and in life, things get confusing or go wrong and suddenly we’re not sure which way to go or how to get over that mountain that’s in the way.”

The workshop will offer practices hikers use to navigate through uncertainty, then discuss how to apply them to life in this time of constant re-orientation.

“We embrace the value of varied beliefs, cultivating space where a diverse ecosystem of views flourish together,” Beth said.

For information, call 206-524-2322 or email


Pacific Northwest United Church News © April-May 2018

Pacific NW United Church Conference News April 2018 - University Congregational UCC in Seattle holds Spirit Workshops and street-corner witness


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