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Church Council marks 100 years of work for justice

More than 200 gathered on June 1 at Plymouth UCC to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Church Council of Greater Seattle (CCGS) and the difference it has made since it was founded in 1919.

About 200 gathered at Plymouth UCC to celebrate the Church Council of Greater Seattle's 100th anniversary.

That year, as World War II was ending, workers closed the city with a general strike and Seattle’s population had quadrupled in 20 years, 62 congregations came together to challenge injustice and build community through relationships coming together across historic prejudice.

“World War I awakened faith leaders to intolerance between branches of Christianity,” said Beth Amsbary, coordinator of philanthropy and member of University Congregational UCC, in a March article on the founding.

In 1919, there was also  a global effort for Christians to come together to prevent another world war.

Beth said only one person attended the first meeting of the proposed Seattle Federation of Churches in early July 1919, but on July 22, 200 “churchmen” from 60 congregations met in Seattle’s hockey rink.

That federation re-formed and transformed several times.

“Differences brought us together.  Embracing differences unifies and makes us powerful today,” she said.

Through the anniversary year, participants are sharing stories about how working together across differences changes the region.

Today the council continues to make a difference by responding to injustice, said Michael Ramos, executive director.

In early years, the council worked to end red-lining in Seattle so there would be adequate housing for people of all races; to desegregate schools; to support immigrants and refugees facing dehumanization.

“Together, the community of faith addresses hate and violence against people of different religious faiths and marginalized communities,” he said.

Now 16 denominations with 320 congregations join in programs working on behalf of immigrants, living wage, housing and homeless advocacy, and interfaith relations.

“We believe we can make a difference together,” Michael said.  “We focus on areas that would not otherwise have attention, working across traditional religious lines to address homelessness and affordable housing to stop displacement, in the area of rapidly unaffordable housing for most folks.”

The council is gathering with partners from different sectors—government, labor, community-based organizers and human services to work together to address ways to alleviate poverty so people survive and thrive in the Seattle area.

Michael, who previously worked in advocacy with the former Washington Association of Churches (WAC), began as social justice minister with the CCGS in 2004.  He became executive director in 2008.

“We have transitioned from an emphasis on direct social services with two transitional housing buildings, a furniture bank, an elder companion project, a youth employment program to move those services to other programs providing similar services on a larger scale,” he said.  “We emphasize building relationships among congregations to engage in social justice in the public square.”

Michael said the Faith Action Network, formed when the WAC and Lutheran Public Policy Office merged in 2011, does advocacy, while the CCGS does local community organizing in King County cities.

• In Burien, churches challenged zoning so Mary’s Place could build affordable housing for women they serve.

• In Bellevue, 20 congregations helped pass an ordinance to allow siting and building permanent shelters.

• In different cities, the focus is on local efforts, bringing congregations together over time to have impact on communities for the common good.

In King and South Snohomish Counties, there are 39 cities.  Seattle has had the most attention, so the council now focuses on other cities.

“We have our own way of doing community organizing. We focus on personal relations among faith leaders and constituents invested in people so they love and gain more strength together, more power to work for social change where they can make a difference where they live.

“We began the transition from programs in 2011 to community organizing, we moved from a $3 million budget in 2008, initially to a budget of $300,000.  Now we have a budget of $650,000,” he said.

Now support comes from foundations, congregations, denominations and individuals, with increasing emphasis on congregations and individuals.

Immigration accompaniment is led by Briana Brannon, who began with the CCGS as a PNC Justice Leadership Program intern. She trains people to accompany immigrants— including many women asylum seekers separated from children at SeaTac Federal Detention Center—to court.

Normandy Park UCC has been involved in her trainings that foster cultural humility in white congregations committed to be with immigrants in respectful ways. University Congregational UCC is also involved in accompaniment.

Bellevue First Congregational UCC is involved in advocacy for women at the shelter, raising $3,400 for phones.

Joey Ager is doing community organizing in Highline community organizing in Highline area part of ecumenical learning circle, building relationships.

Northshore UCC has been involved with hosting homeless people at Camp Unity.

The council has had one or two PNC Justice Leadership interns since the program began. There are also interns from other denominations.

“I see renewal is possible.  In fact, congregations that focus on mission, gospel and engage in social change, are revitalized and make a difference in communities, compared to those focusing on self-preservation and financial survival,” he said. “Public engagement is energizing and renewing.”

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Pacific NW UCC News - Copyright © Summer 2019


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