Pastor gathers interfaith leaders for ongoing efforts in 'moral revival'
Genavieve Heywood has had a passion to stand up for justice throughout her life and now in her leadership as pastor of Veradale United Church of Christ in Spokane Valley and in the community beyond its doors.
Last January, Gen attended a meeting that the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) hosted to introduce the Poor People's Campaign (PPC): A National Call to Moral Revival to explore ways people in Eastern Washington could become involved.
She realized there was little presence from people with a spiritual perspective, so she invited spiritual leaders in the area "from A to Z— Atheists to Zoroastrians," as she put it, to gather and discuss how they could offer spiritual support and advocacy for what PJALS was planning.
With the invitation, she included the principles for the Poor People's Campaign to make it clear what the group would stand for.
The PPC principles say that "moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy." They outline a number of issues that need to be addressed for this to happen, and the need for local individuals to become involved in addressing them.
"This is non-partisan, not about left or right, Democrat or Republican, but about right and wrong," say the principles. It is based on nonviolence.
The PPC suggests four areas of focus: systemic racism, poverty, militarism and ecological devastation.
"As a diverse group of spiritual leaders, we can model what it means to repair the breach …. and move toward developing the beloved community," Gen wrote in the letter. She suggested they could broaden their focus to Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
Gen sent a second letter, asking faith leaders from a variety of viewpoints to advocate for their common concern about the separation of children and families at the border.
Eventually 50 representatives of different faith communities signed on.
This group is now Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience (FLLC).
After sending the letter demanding the reunification of children with their families, they developed a meditation booklet for people going from Spokane to Olympia to take part in the Poor People's Campaign Moral Mondays last spring, to keep them centered on the campaign's principles and issues.
"We hoped to include quotations from atheists, Wiccans, non-spiritual traditions, as well as Muslim, Jewish and Christian," Gen said.
"We hoped to send spiritual companions along to be available to people needing help re-centering. The PPC is a moral call committed to nonviolence," she said.
Barbara Miller, from the Silver Valley Community Resource Center, began attending the meetings and talking about how the Silver Valley, the Coeur d'Alene area and Spokane were all a part of the largest Superfund site in the United States, a major ecological concern for this entire area.
By June, the Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience began to talk about how to address that situation, which also touched on issues of poverty and health for the region.
The group is now planning an event to address those concerns on Earth Day, April 22, 2019.
The FLLC has other events planned.
From 1 to 8 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 13, 2019, the leaders are planning a workshop on "Why Race Matters" at Veradale United Church of Christ, 611 N. Progress Rd.
On Thursday, Feb. 21, they will show the movie, "The Sultan and the Saint," at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave. This is the story of Francis of Assisi meeting with the sultan of Egypt in the middle of the Crusades.
"Is it fact? Is it legend?" Gen asked. "That's not clear. It describes individuals of two different faiths crossing battle lines, listening to each other, and being changed by the conversation."
The movie will be shown for the temple's youth night, followed by a small panel representing Jews, Muslims and Christians, who will answer questions.
In March, the FLLC plans to hold a workshop on the "Strength of Nonviolence." That is still in the planning stages, as is the April Earth Day rally on the superfund site.
"I struggle with the reality that most of the participants, though not all, in the FLLC are Christian," Gen said. "Some people are the single representatives of their group. The invitation is still out for atheists, Wiccans, Zoroastrians and leaders of other groups to join us in being a moral voice."
Gen invites representatives to join the planning meetings, which are at 9:30 a.m., on first Wednesdays at the Veradale UCC.
Recently the group worked by email to edit a statement to read at the Oct. 30 vigil at Temple Beth Shalom as a memorial to the 11 Jewish people shot at a synagogue in Pittsburgh (see p. 10) and shortening it for a letter to the editor.
Soon after Gen came to Veradale UCC in June 2014, she began to expand the church's outreach into the community.
"I want the church's threshold to be a fluid place, where the going out and the coming in are natural and easy," she said.
To that end, the church, which has about 25 attending Sunday worship, extends a welcome to the community, opening the labyrinth in its yard to the public and renting spaces in its community garden to the community. The church shares produce it raises with the community members and N-Sid-Sen, a United Church of Christ camp on Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Veradale UCC members also participate in an ecumenical Days for Girls program with a nearby Latter-day Saints church, in the annual Martin Luther King Day March, the Women's March, the March for Science, the March for our Lives and the Pride Parade.
In the fall, they collect coats and backpacks for Progress Elementary School across the street. They also take monthly collections of supplies for homeless women at Hope House and of food for Spokane Valley Partners.
On fourth Saturdays, Gen offers photography workshops with field trips. She began it as a way to gather people of the church and the wider community to build relationships based on a common interest.
At a recent celebration of Francis of Assisi, the congregation brought pets to be blessed. Members in the photography workshop took pet portraits.
Programs do not specifically have a Christian emphasis.
"I continually make it clear that all people are welcome at Veradale, because all are God's children, no matter what they believe," she said.
Gen has known since she was 11 that she was called to ministry. When she told her parents, they responded by telling her three things: "Women don't do those things." "No one will want to marry you." "You can't live off the collection plate."
The last two concerned her more than the first, because she wanted to marry and have children, and her father often reminded the family that they lived on the edge of poverty.
"I decided that, whatever I did would be my ministry," she said.
She grew up in Durham, Me. During her senior year of high school, she spent six months in Germany. She attended Emmanuel College in Boston, graduating in 1979 with a double bachelor of arts in German and music therapy.
While there, she attended worship one Sunday at Old South Church in Boston. An obviously pregnant pastor was preaching that day.
"Right then and there, all the objections of my family to my being a minister went away," she said.
After graduation, she supported herself as a music therapist while she attended Andover Newton Theological School part time. She earned her master of divinity degree in 1989.
In 1999, she married. They had two children. The marriage did not last, so Gen has raised the children on her own. Her son recently began college. Her daughter is in high school.
Gen said she has had "a long relationship with the Holy Spirit," beginning in childhood, through college, ministry in churches in Maine, moving to California, marrying and divorcing, and then moving to Washington state.
"God is with me, real in my life as a gift, a light in human form," she said.
"I was always advocating for justice and fairness," she said. "I feel compelled to bring people beyond the threshold of the church, sending people in the congregation into the community, as a repairer of the breach."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, December, 2018