Occupy Advent, Occupy Shalom -- Transform the World

A spirit of Shalom spread through Zuccotti Park in downtown New York City on Sunday, Dec 4, as United Methodist leaders spoke out on issues of economic justice and lifted up messages of hope. Hosted by Communities of Shalom, the Occupy Advent prayer and protest included guest preachers Bishop Jeremiah J. Park and Bishop Alfred Johnson, senior pastor at the Church of the Village. Civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson made a surprise appearance and spoke to the more than 100 people who had gathered.

“Thanks to Occupy Wall Street, we are being reminded that unless we are looking out for the poorest among us, we are not being faithful to our God,” proclaimed Bishop Park. “If we are not in the hope-giving business to the marginalized among us, our business model is all wrong!”

Zuccotti Park is the staging area for Occupy Wall Street, a movement for economic justice that began on September 17. Hundreds of occupiers camped out in the park for nearly two months until the city evicted them. Following the eviction, a number of churches stepped in to offer housing to those who were displaced. The occupy movement has sparked protests around the country, and while few people spend the night in Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street continues to grow in new ways. Working groups meet regularly in the park and in the surrounding area and protest activities continue to develop around the city.

According to Rev. Michael Christensen, who leads Communities of Shalom, the faith leaders who gathered stand in solidarity with those who are addressing the systems and principalities that “enrich the few at the expense of the many.” He continued, “We are here today—occupiers and allies—together proclaiming that a newworld is possible, a new world is coming, a new world of Shalom!”

Bishop Johnson is encouraged by the goals of the Occupy movement, and has been preaching an Advent series at the Church of the Village called “Occupy Christmas.” Reflecting on the afternoon, Bishop Johnson said, “The occupation, particularly for people of faith, is a sign of a journey. The real destination is Shalom, God’s Shalom in Jesus that is born at Christmas.”

Framing his remarks around the prophet Jeremiah’s words, Bishop Park assured the group that God’s plan for them is one of hope and shalom. “I call upon our church to be a house of hope. I call upon our people to be agents of hope.”

Proclaiming that it is wrong for people to have to make a choice between food and medication, Bishop Park passionately addressed issues of economic justice.

“Something is seriously wrong in America with the way we’ve been doing economics and life. And, as usual, those with the least are suffering the most . . . The economic system that feeds and satisfies the untamed greed of the most powerful who possess the most resources so that the richest get richer, while the poor stay poor and the middle are squeezed, is not God’s plan. A future with hope! That’s God’s plan for all of us. When hope is missing, we have the God given right to demand it.”

He reminded the gathering that John Wesley said there is no holiness but social holiness. Wesley was known for occupying the streets of London to serve those who are poor.

“A movement called Methodism was born to offer new life and hope to people of all ages and stations . . .What’s social religion all about? A religion that brings hope to everyone. What’s social holiness all about? A holiness that brings hope to all people, particularly to the most underprivileged.”

Bishop Park prayerfully closed his remarks saying, “We are waiting for the One who is the Healer of our brokenness, the Prince of shalom, and Hope of the world. Come to us until hope occupies our hearts, our wills, and our streets. Amen.”

About halfway through the hourlong service, Rev. Jackson made an unexpected visit. He was quickly invited to address the group. Rev. Tanya Linn Bennett, the chaplain at Drew University, commented, “It was nice to see him come and stand with the people and speak a word of truth and justice.”

Jackson spoke of Martin Luther King Jr. as a model for seeking justice. “His last plan was to come to Washington and occupy the Mall ... challenging our nation to choose the war on poverty and healing at home rather than the war on Vietnam and killing abroad.”

In his address, Bishop Johnson engaged the Advent message of occupation, “right in the middle of a matrix of mighty military and conspiring religious institutional power, the interrupting Word of God occupied John the Baptist, who occupied the wilderness with words that occupied and even overflowed into the public and political economy of that day and declared, a change is gonna come! God’s change of justice and fairness for all.”

He concluded his message; “God will send us where God will send us. And we’ll do more than occupy the space—we’ll transform the space with peace and justice—where everybody is welcome and everybody has food . . . and everybody can say hallelujah together.”

Following the service, Christensen reflected in his blog: “I think it was a powerful and prophetic witness to those who did not expect the Church to occupy Zuccotti Park for prayer and protest, for Christian clergy to call for a separation of Corporation and State, or for Jesus to be identified so closely with the 99%!”

The service was held as part of Occupy Faith, a multi-faith coalition of more than 1,400 people who support Occupy Wall Street. Worship services are held every Sunday at 3:30 pm in Zuccotti Park. All are welcome to attend. Congregations and other groups who are interested in leading an Occupy Faith service or related activities may contact: occupyfaith@gmail.com.

This article was originally posted by The Vision, the newsletter of the New York Annual Conference, in the Dec. 16, 2011 issue, available online at http://www.nyac.com/console/files/oUMConnection_Issues_FMXDQI/2011_12_16_TheVision_low_KMA7XJQ6.pdf. It is reposted here by permission of the author.

For more coverage of the Dec. 4 "Occupy Faith" event, see "Call to remind people to honor each other" from umc.org; Rev. Christiansen's blog entry "Time to Occupy Shalom;" and video footage of the event, courtesy of Drew Theological School, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCauwTMKUSU&feature=youtube_gdata.

For more coverage of Methodists@ OWS, see:

"United Methodists at Occupy Wall Street," by Melissa Hinnen, published on November 18, 2011in The Vision, the newspaper of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which can be found at http://nyac.com/console/files/oUMConnection_Issues_FMXDQI/2011_11_18_TheVision_low_RRHEXW75.pdf;

and see the  PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly report on the voices of faith at Occupy Wall Street, containing footage of parts of a United Methodist worship service adjacent to Zuccoti Park and interviews of some of the participants. The segment is available for viewing online. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/october-28-2011/religion-at-occupy-wall-street/9828/

See also Sandra Brand's, "Call 'to remind people to honor each other,'" published on Dec. 6, 2011 by the United Methodist News Service: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=2789393&ct=11536297



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