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Pastor gathers faith leaders to speak out

On Truthful Tuesdays, Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience (FLLC) bring a witness against white supremacy at the Spokane Valley City Hall.

Gen Heywood, second from right, joins readers from her church, the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John, the Sisters of the Holy Names, Unity Spiritual Center, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and Sravasti Buddhist Abbey to lead prayers and readings at the April 22 Vigil for the Healing of the Earth beside Spokane City Hall.

At an April 22 and an Oct. 6 Vigil for the Healing of the Earth, FLLC called and calls for participants to grieve the devastation of the environment and invites them to find ways to join efforts to heal the Earth.

FLLC’s mission is to gather people of faith and non-faith to speak with a moral voice to overcome racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation. It started in January 2018 to support the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, to invite witness on those four principles of the campaign to local and state efforts.

Gen Heywood, pastor of Veradale UCC, went to a meeting for organizing the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC) in Spokane called by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.  While the PPC is faith based, she was the only person of faith at that meeting.

“I have been at Veradale in Spokane Valley for more than five years,” said Gen.  “Through a photographic project to show people of different faith traditions in the area, I had become acquainted with people of different faiths.  I had started to build relationships.”

She reached out to involve people of faith and no-faith to support the Poor People’s Campaign. The FLLC has become a diverse group that includes Atheists, Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sufis, Unitarians, Unity and Wiccans.  The group continues to grow.  Some join in some statements but not other statements.

“They collaborate with Riverkeepers, 350 Spokane, the Tenants Union, Spokane NAACP, Peace and Justice Action League, Spokane Citizens Against Racism, the Spokane Tribe SHAWL Society, Youth Strikes for the Environment, the Sierra Club, The Fig Tree, The Black Lens, Gonzaga Hate Studies, Responsible Growth Northeast Washington and the Silver Valley Community Resource Center collaborate to create a unified moral voice,” said Gen, who provides leadership, keeping participants and the community informed.

“Our statements, vigils and programs have input from all in our coalition through emails and meetings. We model unity in the effort to overcome poverty, racism, militarism, and ecological devastation and move toward developing the Beloved Community,” she said.

The FLLC has written letters to the editor, to elected officials and to government entities on such issues as the area’s superfund sites—from silver and uranium mining—the separation of children at the border, white supremacy in local government and schools.

“We have shown up and spoken at city council meetings, rallies and vigils. We collaborated and read statements in solitary and grief at vigils at Temple Beth Shalom and the Spokane Islamic Center after mass shootings,” she said.  “At the Gonzaga Hate Studies Conference, we gave the invocation and opening words.”

Twice a year, FLLC gathers communities on each end of the largest superfund site in the nation to hold vigils “For the Healing of the Earth.”

They also hold monthly vigils for the healing of Spokane Valley because of its connection with white supremacy and Christian Dominionism.

‘These vigils will continue until 1) the city council makes serious steps to include marginalized people in discussions and show genuine effort to serve all the citizens, and 2) the political and community leaders speak against State Representative Matt Shea’s “Biblical Basis for War,” Gen said.

Plans for the next three years include quick response to immoral acts in the government and community by putting out statements after an act of racism, harm to the poor, militaristic zeal or environmental devastation.

That includes the monthly vigils at city hall, building relationships with area tribes related to ecological devastation on their reservations, healing the earth vigils, participating in meetings on the four emphases and participating in the 10-session “Stand on Sacred Ground” that addresses racism.

In 2020, the plan is to continue those events, write letters to the editor, offer a workshop at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, begin a collaborative Rosa Parks Day to celebrate black history.

Gen relates this effort with her congregation.

“Our church leaders agree we must take our faith out into our community,” she said.  “The PNC and the national UCC see acting for justice as an act of faithfulness to Christ.”

The FLLC is accountable to its coalition partners and the Veradale UCC, which exposes the community to a Christian church that is built on love, justice and inclusion,” she said.

That contrasts with many churches that grow membership through placing “bigoted proclamations in God’s mouth, teaching that women are to be silent, whites are superior and violence in God’s name is righteous.”

Veradale UCC, through the FLLC, speaks for the LGBTQAI, people of color, Jews, Muslims and other marginalized people.

After Gen graduated from Emmanuel College in Boston and graduated in 1989 from Andover Newton Theological School, she was as a music therapist. Her first church was in Durham, Maine. She later served the UCC church in Sunnyvale, Calif., 20 years before coming to Veradale.

The FLLC is a model of trying and trying again, being willing to fail and meet deadends,” she said.  “Some groups do not sign on to all the PPC principles, but agree children should not be separated from their families.”

Over her 30 years as a pastor, Gen has seen people seeking magic formulas to grow churches, but has found there is no easy answer.

“We need to be involved in our community, meeting needs that emerge,” she said.  “Being out in the community, we hear what is needed and how a church response fits the need.  Sometimes, we just show up.
“It’s powerful to return to our moral center, to do what is right, not what is left or right, Christian or non-Christian, Democrat or Republican,” she said.

The next Vigil to for the Healing of the Earth is at 3 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 6, at Cataldo Mission, which is on the Silver Valley Superfund Site.

Spokane and Coeur d’Alene tribal leaders may offer prayers to express the grieving for the damage to creation and community organizations will have booths to give people a way to act.

For information, call 408-593-9556 or email


Pacific NW United Church News copyright © Fall 2019


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