Social Justice Activities from the Heirloom 1996-2005

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

 From a recent read, the following quote stood out as a philosophy held by many UU’s. “I never can understand why anyone should think, because of absence of rewards or punishments, one should misbehave. I have not the slightest belief in either, and behave myself simply because I find it a thousand times more agreeable than the other thing. Vice always looks to me so atrociously stupid and dull, and there are so many delicious things in the world that I could not imagine myself doing wicked things when the innocent ones are so far more agreeable.”

The writer was Elizabeth Bisland, the journalist who embarked on a journey around the world in an attempt to better Jules Verne’s fictional trip of 80 days. She headed from New York to the West while at the same time Nellie Bly headed East with the same quest in mind. Bly beat Bisland back to New York but both ladies completed the journey in under 80 days. Bisland had been raised a Calvinist Christian but as an adult had abandoned her childhood religion not believing in eternal damnation.    

As UU’s, what opportunities did our church’s historical membership pursue to participate in Ms. Bisland’s “delicious things”? Following are a few that were mentioned in Heirlooms from the ten-year period of 1996 to 2005.  

The February 1996 Heirloom reported that a new social justice committee had been formed and held its first meeting. Attendees were Lisa Arnett, Jim Crocker-Lackness, Sam Gamble, Melissa Rockenfield, and Elinor Artman. 

From 1996 to 1998, our church partnered with St. John Fisher Catholic Church of Newtown, Ohio to assist a refugee family who had escaped the war in Kosovo. The tasks associated with this project were varied and many. They included helping the family learn English, getting the children (seven in total) enrolled in school, transporting the family to various functions, working through a bureaucratic maze of paperwork, providing them food and clothing (as the family had left Kosovo with literally the clothes they were wearing), offering homework assistance to the children, and arranging job interviews for the parents. Within 14 months, the family became self-sufficient.

In December 1998, the church participated in the Beech Acres Hug A Family program. Boards were set up with tags on them indicating what gifts might be purchased for the participating needy families. Beech Acres and our own social justice committee were to facilitate delivery of the gifts. Helen Armstrong coordinated the event.

In February of 2000, a new group was introduced to the congregation entitled Greater Anderson Promotes Peace. One of the founders of the group was Louise Lawarre. Helen Armstrong and Jim Yunker encouraged Heritage to become actively involved with the group. A special meeting was held on February 27 to present the group’s mission to the membership and other friends of Heritage. In addition, an endorsement written for the Board of Trustees by Bob Rush was sent to GAPP and a special collection was taken at the March 12 service. The mission statement for GAPP read:  Greater Anderson Promotes Peace affirms the dignity and value of all people. As a coalition of concerned citizens, we are committed to the ongoing work of peace building as essential for community life. We believe it is critical not to react to acts of intolerance with silent disagreement, but rather, to transform silence and lethargy into visible acceptance of others by actively confronting intolerance and replacing it with acts which promote peace.”

While the adults of Heritage were active in social justice issues, our children also were offered many opportunities to serve their community. Beginning in February 2001, the RE classes began collecting sample size toiletry items. These were deposited in a basket in the Great Hall. Later in the spring, these items were bundled by our youth and the items were distributed to homeless persons throughout the Cincinnati area. 

In January 2002, Helen Armstrong reported to the congregation concerning the kindness shown during the Christmas season of giving. Over $500 was donated to the UU Guest at Your Table program, much food, mittens and other clothing were donated to Inter Parish Ministry. Gift certificates, totaling $150 dollars, were donated to families served by Beech Acres. Toys and clothes were donated in response to an emergency request from the White Oak Tree Grove service project. Gift certificates, totaling  $300, were provided directly to local families. Helen also announced that she and her husband were planning several big trips and she would have to give up her chair leading the social justice committee. Alicia Shamblin was to replace her with help from Donna Buckley.

On June 17, 2002, ground was broken for the Underground Railroad Museum in downtown Cincinnati. As part of the ceremony, singers from around the city provided a choral backdrop to the festivities. At least nine Heritage singers participated, including Bob and Connie Booth.

On July 24, 2003, Barbara Rohrer left Cincinnati for a two-week medical mission to Ecuador. The trip was conducted under the sponsorship of the UU Church of Lexington. Barb asked that our congregation donate medical supplies that she could take with her to help in attending to the needs of the people of Ecuador. It is not known how much was donated, but we hope that Barb left to service needy Ecuadorians with crates full of medical supplies.

The newly formed Welcoming Committee encouraged Heritage to participate in the September 2004 AIDS Walk. Walkers from Heritage raised over $1,000 in pledges and enjoyed a three mile walk through downtown Cincinnati. The committee was formed to gain Welcoming Church status through the UUA. As a welcoming church, we opened our doors to those who identified as LGBTQIA+. Along with this, a call went out in June of 2005 for people to participate in the Gay Pride Festival. Kathy Nalepa was the coordinator for both the AIDS walk and the Pride Festival.

It should be noted that the activities cited above are only a small representation of social justice causes with which our church was involved. Often calls were sent out for participation through the Heirloom but in many cases, there was no follow-up story about the event. Sometimes we are not very good at “blowing our own horn.” Nevertheless, it is quite evident that Heritage was deeply involved in supporting those in need. Participation in these projects was accomplished by both the adult membership and in RE programming.

Image source: