Taking a stand in Edmonds

A year after the election of Donald Trump, church continues its progressive path
By Brian Soergel | Dec 07, 2017
Photo by: Brian Soergel The Rev. Cecilia Kingman is Minister of Faith and Justice at Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

The evening of Nov. 8, 2016, changed everything for the Rev. Cecilia Kingman and members of the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation.

“We had a vision that Hillary Clinton was going to be president,” Kingman recalled recently from the church’s offices on 224th Street SW. “And that’s not what happened, right?”

To say many in the congregation came away from the election upset is to understate the obvious. This is a group of progressive citizens who refer to themselves as a “congregation,” although “church” is used as well. “Coexist” and “Feel the Bern” bumper stickers rule the parking lot.

Kingman says that some members don’t believe in God – and you don’t have to, to be a church member. The national Unitarian Universalist Association, formed in 1961 from the merger of two denominations, is grounded in the humanistic teachings of the world's religions. Members’ spirituality draws from scripture, yes, but also science, nature and philosophy, personal experience

and even ancient traditions.

It also is strongly supportive of LGBTQ rights, and has an interest group called QUUE (Queer Unitarian Universalists of Edmonds), dedicated to the social well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

Around the time of Donald Trump’s win and subsequent inauguration, Kingman – for two years a part-time minister for families and faith development – had been pondering her options at the church, thinking she might take on more responsibility elsewhere as a senior minister.

“I had been thinking and reflecting and praying on what’s next,” she said. “What’s the best use of my gifts in service to the broader world?”

But, at the same time, Kingman was inspired by her congregation during a workshop the Saturday after the election. Congregants met to discuss what they could do to serve marginalized communities and protect their fellow citizens from what they perceived to be the new administration’s policies.

“I fell in love with our congregation all over again. I watched them and thought, why would I leave these amazing people with their incredibly big hearts and their desire to serve in a hurting world?”

She met with the Rev. Eric Kaminetzky, the church’s senior minister, to discuss options.

The result: In late September, Kingman was installed in a new, full-time position, while also continuing her previous duties: Minister of Faith and Justice. It’s doubtful the position would have been created if Clinton had won, which board president Carolyn Tucker acknowledged.

“We called Cecilia to lead in reaction to last year's election result and our new national reality,” she said.

So what does the new position entail?

Kingman speaks in above-the-treetops scenarios about the responsibility of “equipping our people to do the work of social justice in the world,” of “trying to raise children to be people who live in the world with open hearts, who act ethically and passionately in the world.”

Tucker said Kingman will support the congregation’s social justice work with education on issues such as racial and climate justice. “She will work to connect us to wider movements in the community and beyond. We think that Edmonds, and our region, will be better off with her in our pulpit.”

The church already immerses itself in the community. It sponsors food drives, blood drives, a cold-weather shelter and a “Meaningful Movies” series. Its back parking lot has 10 spaces for its “car camp” program, with provides temporary shelter for homeless families.

The “social justice” portion of Kingman’s role has many facets. For example, a proposal for a racial-justice team quickly drew more than 80 congregants. It’s Kingman’s job to get them to where they need to go. “They say they want to work to dismantle white supremacy. My work is to equip them to do the work they are called for.”

Combating racial discrimination, among other forms of discrimination, is a large slice of Kingman’s agenda.

“We’re a largely white, upper-middle class community,” she said. “We want to be more welcoming to people who don’t look like us.”

On Oct. 22, the church held a service addressing “white privilege and the intersectionality of justice issues,” as part of its larger denomination's national “Teach In on White Supremacy.”

“The return of the Rev. Cecilia Kingman to the Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Congregation in her new roles has revitalized our faith development offerings for children and youth, and has opened new, exciting energies and vistas for social justice engagement in our congregation,” Kaminetzky said.

“Cecilia's focus on justice work as a ministry that is accessible to everyone is bringing new people through our doors and into our programs, justice-oriented and otherwise. And the emergence of her justice ministry at the church is helping us hone our efforts and get our message out to people who are hungry to make a difference now, in this moment, in the community. That is priceless.”

An emerging priority: gun control

On the evening of Sept. 30, several congregation members expressed support for learning more about gun-control legislation. The next day, a lone gunman killed 58 people attending a concert in Las Vegas.

Kingman spoke at a vigil at the church that night.

I am, as I said before, very tired of waking up to news of more suffering in our world. I am tired of getting texts that say, have you seen the news? I am tired of my own grief, tired of my own anger. And I am angry. Angry at so much destruction. Angry at the loss of life, human and otherwise, in these difficult days.

And I fear for our country. We are so polarized. So far apart. How can we have come to a place where some people feel other people deserve to die? Why is there so much anger and meanness amongst us all? Even in my own heart?

Some days I want to give up. I lose sight of what is good and true. I lose sight of the foundations of our faith. I lose sight of how beautiful this life is. I lose sight of what I am trying to save.

What are we trying to save, my friends? What do we love so much that we are determined to save it? Our children, our nation, our planet, our future? Our common humanity, perhaps? Maybe just love. Maybe what we are really trying to save is just love, only love.

Tonight, let us ground ourselves in love. Let us remember that we are saving love, for only love, a fierce, determined, courageous love, can save us.

Each of us has something we can do. Some of us are ready to work on reducing gun violence. If you are in that place, you can talk with some folks after this vigil. Some of our people working on this issue will be at a table out in the foyer.

Background

Kingman, 50, grew up in Montana and lives in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood. “It’s an extremely mixed neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a close multiracial block. I love it.”

Kingman trained in community and political organization under the ideals of Saul Alinsky, who is noted for his 1971 book “Rules for Radicals.” She studied theology in Berkeley, California.

For Kingman, the word “justice” in her title can apply to many different things. A big one is the climate and the damaging effects of man-made carbon emissions. One of the congregation’s leading members is activist Carlo Voli, who helped establish the Edmonds Community Solar Cooperative, the first fully citizen-owned community solar cooperative in Washington state.

He was arrested outside the White House in August 2011 protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, has been involved in community organizing and taking part in direct actions to stop extreme energy projects and preventing, he says, the Pacific Northwest from becoming a fossil fuel corridor.

Last year, Voli chained himself to equipment at the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota.

Not all congregation members are as committed as Voli, but they don’t have to be. Kingman can steer congregants to action through lobbying and education.

“It’s clear that what has to happen now is political change,” she said. “(Part of) my job is to provide pastoral care. It’s exhausting to continually face the reality of climate change and the breaking and the already-happening disasters. They need someone to care for their spirit and strengthen them in their struggle.”

Kids can be activists, too

Children also can become part of political change, Kingman said, but today many have what she calls “existential dread” about climate change’s effects. “It is like growing up in the nuclear age with all of its despair and anxiety.”

To help, Kingman hired the Edmonds-based “Quiet Heart Wilderness School to write a specialized curriculum for the Sunday morning children’s program. The program connects kids to nature and gives them practical outdoor skills.

“One of the ways human beings combat despair is by spending time in nature,” Kingman said. “They learn how to identify native plants and their uses, learning from indigenous knowledge, sitting in gratitude circles and giving them the space to talk about scary things.”

New challenge

Recently, the Edmonds congregation has taken a leadership role in the Washington State chapter of a national campaign called the “Poor People's Campaign” (www.poorpeoplescampaign.org).

“The congregation contributed money, volunteers and my time to help organize the first meeting in Washington,” Kingman said. “I now serve on the statewide coordinating committee. The goal of this campaign is 40 days of civil disobedience by thousands of people across the country, to combat racism, poverty, militarism and environmental destruction.”

More than 600 people attended the first interfaith gathering, and more than 200 committed themselves to nonviolent civil disobedience in the coming days of action. Many of those 200 were members of the congregation, including Kingman.

They can heed the words that Kingman ended her sermon with after the Las Vegas shootings:

Some of you have other work that pulls on your heart.

Whatever you can do, it is worthy.

Whatever we can do, it is needed.

Whatever we will do, let us do it in love.

May it be so, my friends. Amen.

 

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