FUSE Wins 2017 National Award
from United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
We are thrilled to share that on August 8, 2017, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) announced the winners of its 2017 Solomon Schechter Awards, designed to recognize initiatives that shape an authentic and dynamic experience of Conservative Judaism. Congregation Ohev Shalom, FUSE’s founding partner and supporter, was distinguished at the highest level for innovation and impact, in the “Prophetic Voice” category. Eleven others synagogues across the country were recognized for excellence in one of five categories as well.
More than 185 programs were submitted for consideration, and a panel of 15 judges carefully reviewed the entries to select the winners. All of the congregations recognized, including representatives from Ohev Shalom and FUSE, will present their award-winning initiatives at the 2017 USCJ convention, December 1-5 in Atlanta, GA. Stay tuned for more information!
Rev. Greg Klimovitz | September 21, 2017
And who is my neighbor?
This was the preface to one of Jesus’ most prophetic parables that cut through first-century religious, cultural, and ethnic divisions that continue to challenge us today.
This question also frames Swarthmore and Wallingford Presbyterian Church’s partnership with the Fellowship of Urban and Suburban Engagement (FUSE). An interfaith and ecumenical network in Delaware County and the City of Chester, FUSE bridges the gap between urban and suburban communities through the nurturing of cross-cultural relationships. In a time of increased polarizations and awareness of personal and systemic biases and privileges, members of Swarthmore and Wallingford have linked arms with FUSE to affirm their commitment to the beloved community that transcends race, religion, class, and social location. Along the way, they have nurtured relationships that transform strangers into valued neighbors.
Recently, the two congregations partnered with FUSE to fund One-to-One Coffee Conversations. A 2016 Dream Tank for Ministry Innovation grant recipient of the Presbytery of Philadelphia, this initiative provides gift cards to pairs of FUSE participants from different backgrounds for raw and honest conversations at a local coffee shop or mutually agreed upon restaurant. The distributed gift cards eliminate potential financial barriers, prohibit one person from becoming beholden to the other, and foster a level of equality vital for truthful storytelling that dismantles prejudice and elevates love of neighbor. “If we are willing to engage that space together and have the ability to be on equal ground there and begin to talk about all the other things, we begin to develop empathy for one another,” commented Rev. Sarah Cooper-Searight, Associate Pastor of Swarthmore Presbyterian Church. “Our empathy is what leads us to genuinely caring about one another…and when you genuinely care about someone then you genuinely want to do something to work towards change.”
What has been critical for these conversations, of which there have close to twenty person-to-person first-time meet ups since receiving the grant, has been the freedom to be open and risk vulnerability. Clyde Killebrew, member of the FUSE steering committee and Executive Administrator of Making a Change Group, added, “A lot of people are really curious about things they don’t understand. [They] really would ask if they felt they were not going to offend or be ostracized or punished because they said something that didn’t come out quite the way that it should have.” This permission to ask the tough and unrefined questions in safe and gracious spaces is central to the vision of FUSE. “We talk about trying to expand the fences,” added Bonnie Breit, member of Congregation Ohev Shalom and the FUSE steering committee, “recognizing that there are differences but trying to find ways to get people to learn from each other.”
As Wallingford and Swarthmore congregants have expanded their fences and participated in various FUSE-sponsored events, they have deconstructed assumptions and affirmed the value of those who live just across the urban-suburban divide. “FUSE invites and encourages its members to tear down barriers,” noted Rev. Francois Lacroix of Wallingford Presbyterian Church, “[FUSE encourages us] to get out of our ‘silos’, to actually walk with others, to get to know the other as brother and sister.”
In addition to these formative conversations, FUSE participants have worked together on local community restoration efforts, to include park clean up days and care for local community gardens. These ventures are more than token service projects. Instead, they are affirmations of what is possible when strangers become collaborative neighbors and share resources to improve the communities they both love. Even more, they embody the same neighbor love wrapped within Jesus’ ancient parable. “The gospel is written all over this,” said Rev. Cooper-Searight. “If this is not the work to which I am called I don’t know what is. This is how I worship God and glorify God.”
As our congregations ponder their local call in such a time as this, there is much to glean from the witness of Swarthmore and Wallingford’s commitment to FUSE. They have affirmed that if we are to work to undo the effects of racism and slow the impact of our biases and varied privileges, it begins with a commitment to view the other as neighbor. This will require a willingness to invest in new community partnerships and holistic relationships of grace. Only then can we begin to work towards the kind of change in our neighborhoods that mirror God’s dreams for a world made whole, right, and good again.
(The Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County provides a forum for interfaith dialogue on matters of mutual concern. It is our mission to cultivate relationships of trust and solidarity among religious leaders in order to enable a public witness that draws upon our deepest religious values.)
This letter was published in the Delco Times, http://www.delcotimes.com/opinion/20170905/another-view-interfaith-council-makes-its-stand-against-hate
The Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County adds our collective voice to those who have condemned the racism and bigotry promoted by the KKK, neo-Nazis, and all other alt-right groups. As we look back on the horrible violence in Charlottesville, and ahead to the upcoming 16th anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11, we publicly reaffirm our commitment to our Council’s mission: We stand for mutual trust, active dialogue, and above all the celebration of our different religious traditions. As a coalition of leaders and community members across faith traditions, we profess that all our traditions are rooted in love and solidarity with each other as neighbors. We are different. We know that. We lean into it, because we have learned that diversity is a gift.
We also know that fear can be a strong motivator. It can be weaponized into hate, violence, and oppression; something that is all too real in our communities and in our world today. The Interfaith Council strives to be a public witness, and to inspire others to join us. We must stand united. Anti-Semitism, islamophobia, xenophobia, hate towards the LGBTQ community, and all forms of racism are abhorrent to us and to the faith traditions we represent. We encourage all who read this to reach beyond your own boundaries, seek out difference, and refuse to let the messages of fear and violence fester. We are leaning into a commitment towards love and understanding; lean with us.
Rev. Sukja Bang, Swarthmore United Methodist Church
Deacon Beth Barkhau, Reformation Lutheran Church Media, PA
Reverend Marcie Brozyna, Philadelphia Presbytery
Rev. Jennifer L. Casey, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Wallingford
Mary E. Chollet, Director of Ministry, St. John Chrysostom Parish
John Fedock, representing Swarthmore Buddhadharma Group
Rev. Jonathan Fettig, Senior Pastor, Media Presbyterian Church
Rev. Peter A. Friedrichs, Unitarian Universalist Church of Delaware County
Rev. Alina S. Gayeuski, Reformation Lutheran Church, Media
Rabbi Jeremy Gerber, Congregation Ohev Shalom
Rev. William L.B. Gray, Sr., Wesley A.M.E. Church.
Rev. Edward J Hallinan, St John Chrysostom Church
Jennifer Karsten, Executive Director of Pendle Hill Quaker Center
Rev. François Lacroix, Wallingford Presbyterian Church. Moderator, Interfaith Council of Southern Delaware County
Rev. Wayne A. Matthias-Long, Reformation Lutheran Church, Media
Venerable Amy Miller, Touring Teacher, Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition
Rabbi Kelilah Miller, Cantor and Education Director, Congregation Ohev Shalom
William J. Oberfield, MD, Member of Providence Friends Meeting
Mary Lou Parker, Swarthmore Friends Meeting (Quaker)
Rev. Nikki Perrine Passante, Associate Pastor, Media Presbyterian Church.
Rabbi Linda Potemken, Congregation Beth Israel of Media
Rev. Sarah Cooper Searight, Swarthmore Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Joyce U Tompkins, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and Interfaith Center, Swarthmore College. Priest Associate, Trinity Episcopal Church, Swarthmore
Rev. Joyce Shin, Swarthmore Presbyterian Church