The 2015 recipient of the Bennett Award for Congregational Action on Human Justice and Social Action is the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship of Bellingham, WA.
The Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship (BUF) has had a long history in social and environmental justice, from underground railway work for draftees of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and refugees from the war in El Salvador in the 1980s, to migrant workers rights as far back as the ’60s with grape boycotts and more recently with berry pickers in Skagit County as well as providing sanctuary and support to families disrupted by ICE raids and confronting self-appointed “Minutemen” U.S. border guards beginning in 2005, to leadership in Whatcom PFLAG and the Bellingham Pride Celebration, to efforts to counter poverty and homelessness for decades.
Currently, BUF has an umbrella Social and Environmental Justice Committee, which is the largest committee in the congregation. The full committee sponsors special monthly collections for local, non-profit organizations and also does other justice activities, but much of its justice work is performed by a series of Ministry Action Teams and one congregationally-approved partnership team. Ministry Action/Partnership Teams include Fair Trade Project, Food Bank, Community2Community/BUF Partnership, Native American Connections, Responsible Energy, Humanitas, and Reclaim Democracy. The largest of these are the Community2Community Partnership and the Native American Connections Committee.
Community2Community/BUF Partnership Team
Community2Community (C2C) is a woman-led, place-based, grassroots organization committed to transforming harmful attitudes and conditions surrounding immigrants and farmworkers-many who are migrant workers and of indigenous nations within their own countries. BUF’s Immigration Rights Team began working with C2C in 2005, in opposing the Minutemen and has continued to work with C2C in a variety of immigration educational efforts and social actions. In 2012, by congregational resolution, they established a formal partnership with C2C.
This partnership has led to many powerful projects, including cultural exchange programs for youth and families such as Posada and Dia de los Muertos celebrations; film-screenings; citizenship and anti-racism classes; letter writing campaigns; workshops and summits with local government, law enforcement, and legislative officials; BUF organizing help and attendance at marches, rallies, picketing, and lobbying events; BUF support and volunteers for C2C programs such as Cosinas Sanas (Healthy Kitchens), Racies Culturales (youth), and annual Cesar Chavez Potluck fundraiser; BUF support for C2C’s human rights conferences, social forums, and peoples movement assemblies; and much more.
Native American Connections (NACC)
NACC provides many opportunities for BUF and the greater community to deepen awareness and knowledge of Indigenous peoples and issues, and to become active neighbors and allies. This is accomplished through a variety of programming including speakers, services, adult education, films, reading groups, workshops, fundraisers, the arts and special events. NACC biggest partnership is with Lummi Nation, a neighboring Indigenous nation. This 8-year-long partnership encompasses service, education, advocacy, witness, and community organizing. At Lummi Nation’s request, BUF has been able to provide assistance in Lummi Nation reaching faith and activist leaders concerning the threat to their sacred lands, fishing rights, and culture by a proposed oil/coal terminals and organizing them into substantive action. Read the whole story about the partnership between BUF and Lummi Nation.
The Importance of Partnership and Collaboration
As a result of working through the Green Sanctuary Program and with both Lummi Nation and Community to Community, BUF’s discovered first-hand that justice issues cannot be solved in isolation. Building coalitions and alliances with environmental groups, social justice organizations, and other local faith groups and larger faith organizations is a key part of BUF’s justice ministry; these groups include Earth Ministry (Washington’s Chapter of Interfaith Power and Light), the Faith Action Network, the Northwest UU Justice Network, Washington UU Voices for Justice, and many more groups. BUF also collaborates with UU congregations throughout the Pacific Northwest, including congregations in Canada.
In working with both Lummi Nation and Community2Community BUF has helped form allies amongst the environmental, social justice, political and faith communities on local, regional, national, and international levels. “Our current challenges do not recognize or adhere to human-made boundaries or borders,” is their mantra. Lummi Totem Pole Journeys have brought together environmental, social justice and faith groups both throughout the Pacific U.S. Region and into British Columbia and Alberta Provinces in Canada in raising awareness of the impacts of the fossil fuel industry on Native and non-Native communities alike. BUF’s work with C2C is encouraging similar alliances with the environmental, social justice, and faith communities through collaborative efforts such as the March for Dignity and MLK Symposium workshops.
Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship members constantly work on deepening their understanding of the issues at hand, their complexity and intricacies, and continue to strive to build a more inclusive, cooperative, Earth-respecting community not only here at home, but across all borders and barriers.