Clergy have organized Saturday gathering in response to recent acts of hate

Multi-faith “Gathering of Love & Hope” will converge on Middlebury Town Green Dec. 3
MIDDLEBURY — The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based organization that tracks hate crimes nationally, documented more than 700 instances of “hateful harassment” during the week after the Nov. 8 presidential election. At least two of those were in Middlebury: the scrawling of swastikas on the door of Havurah House, Addison County’s Jewish congregation; and F*** MUSLIMS/#TRUMP2016 on a whiteboard outside a Middlebury College dorm room occupied by two Muslim students.
In response, the multi-faith Middlebury Area Clergy Association has organized “A Community Gathering of Love and Hope” for midday this Saturday, Dec. 3.
That’s when area citizens — of any faith or no faith — are invited to assemble at meeting places around greater Middlebury between noon and 12:30 p.m. Shortly before 1 p.m. they’ll begin to make their way toward the town green, carrying donations of cash, winter clothing and food for the organization HOPE (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects).
On the green, a parked truck will receive the donations. Participants will be invited to leave messages of solidarity and hope, and an ensemble will provide music for dancing.
The starting points for the processions will include Havurah House on North Pleasant Street; Middlebury United Methodist Church (North Pleasant); the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (Charles Avenue); and Mead Chapel on the Middlebury College campus. But anyone similarly moved may organize a procession to the green from anywhere else in the community, or simply show up in support without processing from a house of worship.
“After the swastika incident, we received hundreds of e-mails and countless letters of support,” said Sarit Katzew, the director of education for Havurah House. “Our sidewalks and walkway were covered with uplifting messages of hope and love. Kids from area schools and churches made us cards, and people I’d never met would stop me to say how upset they were by what happened and that they stand with Havurah.
“So many people wanted to do something but weren’t sure what that could be. I’m thrilled to help organize this event that gives people of all faiths and backgrounds a way to come together and do something positive — to stand together as a community and show that these acts of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia we’ve seen in Middlebury over the past few weeks are outliers and do not represent how this community as a whole feels.”
One element of the event, Katzew pointed out, originated at Manhattan’s Union Square subway station and was replicated by children at Havurah House’s Hebrew School. Using Post-It notes, Havurah students addressed messages of support to anyone who felt disheartened or threatened by recent acts of hostility and then arranged the Post-Its on a wall in the shape of a heart. Organizers will encourage participants in the Dec. 3 event to create a similar collage, which will be displayed around the county afterward.
“My faith teaches me that the best and most powerful response in any situation is love, and my faith connects me to a supply of inexhaustible love,” said the Rev. Tim Franklin, pastor of the Bridport Congregational Church. “On Dec. 3 we’re inviting all people, no matter what they’re experiencing or feeling, be it fear or anger or intimidation or anxiety, to choose to respond with a tangible act of love.
“Bringing our donations of food and money to HOPE helps move us toward what we all want Addison County to be — a community of love and justice and peace. My prayer is that the love and goodwill that already exist in our community will deepen and grow in the face of the acrimonious times we find ourselves in, and that this gathering will be just one in a continuing series of everyday expressions of love that make Addison County a beautiful and ennobling place to live.”
For more information about the event, contact the Rev. Mary Kay Schueneman, pastor of the Cornwall Congregational Church, at 802-989-3015 or [email protected].

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