Guest columnists The Rev. Vicki Kemper and Marylou Sullivan: Congregation answers a call

Published: 7/30/2020 7:29:58 AM

If there is one life ethic shared by virtually all faith traditions and value systems, it is the vital importance of loving our neighbors, of treating others as we would like to be treated.

When the pandemic quarantines, shutdowns and layoffs began in earnest, we at First Church Amherst (United Church of Christ) knew our neighbors were hurting. The question for us was not whether to help, but how best to love our neighbors in these unprecedented times.

Our church is committed to the peaceful struggle for justice, but some needs are urgent and cannot wait for systemic change. We knew many of our neighbors had lost their jobs and some were struggling to feed their children and pay the rent, so we decided to double down on charity while continuing to work for justice.

First we made contributions totaling $5,000 to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the Amherst Survival Center, the Not Bread Alone soup kitchen, and the Downtown Amherst Foundation.

And still we knew love required more of us. So we gave $17,000 to Western Massachusetts Community Mutual Aid, which makes modest grants to individuals and families, many of them people of color in communities to our south. And then we contributed $10,000 to the Downtown Amherst Foundation, for microgrants to the locally-owned small businesses whose employees are our neighbors and whose goods and services sustain our community.

We are not a wealthy congregation; each year we must draw from a modest endowment to meet our annual operating expenses. These contributions came from moneys we had set aside for gifts of peace, justice and compassion.

Why are we telling you this? With pandemic hardship outlasting government aid, the time has come for all of us who can to dig deep and keep giving.

The Christian gospels highlight occasions on which Jesus of Nazareth, faced with hungry crowds and very little food, managed to feed thousands of people. Some call it the miracle of loaves and fishes; we think it’s more likely that many in the crowds gave of what little they had and, in the end, it was more than enough.

Our church’s gifts are just a drop in the bucket of need, but we know our neighbors are generous. Perhaps if we all give something of what we have, there will be more than enough, and our communities will come out of this pandemic stronger than ever before.

The Rev. Vicki Kemper is pastor and Marylou Sullivan is moderator at First Church Amherst.

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