Back in September, MUUSJA: The Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance invited the Rev. Karen Van Fossan, minister to the Unitarian Universalist Church & Fellowship of Bismarck/Mandan (UUFCBM), to join us for our monthly statewide Convening Call to speak about the ongoing battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. At that time, the UU congregation of 60 members and one half-time minister--one of only three in North Dakota, and the only one with professional clergy - had already been building deep relationships with the Water Protectors since April. Rev. Van Fossan spoke of her people’s deep sense of calling in this work of service, followership, and solidarity. At that point they were already offering concrete solidarity by hosting travelers, serving as a through-point for supply donations, and taking a bold public stance with the #NoDAPL movement in a region in which virtually no other religious group would risk speaking out for indigenous people, or the earth that stood to be harmed by the pipeline. Standing Rock was only beginning to get national media coverage at that point, and the story of our UU kin showing up in such a faithful, prophetic way inspired all of us in Minnesota.
Shortly following that Convening Call, Rev. Van Fossan and I spoke again about what a broader, nation-wide UU response to Standing Rock might look like--and how we, as a religious people, might better support the congregation in sustaining their faithful support of the Water Protectors as representatives of our entire faith. More conversations followed, with representatives from the UUA, MidAmerica Region, Standing on the Side of Love, the UU College of Social Justice, and others. As a result of these collaborations, a broad network of UUs from a wide variety of our organizations and congregations mobilized a nimble, accountable rapid response to directly support the Bismarck congregation, and the Water Protectors. Together, by leveraging our relationships and our institutional resources, we supported hundreds of Unitarian Universalist clergy and lay people traveling to North Dakota to attend nationwide calls for physical presence at the camps. We schemed together to get the “Interfaith Living yUUrt” transported from Minnesota to Oceti Sakowin camp, and made that space available to both indigenous folks and people of faith who needed a place to stay. We raised funds to support Rev. Van Fossan’s ministry, and the work of the congregation. And when the needs shifted and the weather changed, we created the Ministry in Residence Program, sending a series of Unitarian Universalist clergypeople for a week at a time to be with Rev. Van Fossan and the UUs in Bismarck, adding to their capacity and representing our solidarity in an embodied way.
This work of solidarity continues. Can you support today?
The seventh Minister in Residence arrives in Bismarck this week. These clergy people, who have come from all over the country, and have volunteered their service without compensation, have been critical to supporting our congregation there in sustaining their direct solidarity work with the Water Protectors. From Rev. Jill Cowie:
A few weeks after the election I attended a conference entitled "The Next Four Years: Building our Movements in Dangerous Times." I left resolved to do what I can to protect our most targeted communities and our most vulnerable activists. With this pledge in mind, I said "yes" to being the minister in residence to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and Church of Bismarck-Mandan for a week. The "yes" didn't come easily, it meant not meeting commitments I had made. The beautiful thing is that my supervisor at the hospital for which I was working said, "go, this is important." My family concurred.
While there I made over 60 calls to people asking them to help clean up the camp. I helped hang pictures, bulletin boards and organized. I created flyers, attended the UU women's lunch, and an interfaith meeting to plan a training on multicultural competencies. Everywhere I went, I was a visual reminder that this small congregation was not alone in standing for Standing Rock, though they are the only church to do so in the state.
On Wednesday, I joined Karen Van Fossan, the congregation's minister at a bond hearing for a water protector who had been in jail since his arrest in September. We both wore our ministerial collars as a visible reminder that standing up for Standing Rock is a moral issue. The water protector was released because Karen and the congregation found him a local place to live with a couple who agreed to be his sponsor while he awaits his trial. Tears of joy and gratitude flowed among his family and advocates. You too were there in spirit for your support of this program enables the ongoing spiritual nurturance and care for Karen and her congregation who may otherwise feel isolated and alone in this important ministry. Thank you for making this ministry possible. - Jill Cowie, minister in residence
We are grateful to all the congregations and organizations who have blessed their ministers to go and serve in this way. We are thankful to the Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Association and the UU College of Social Justice, who have each underwritten a week of this ministry. And we are also indebted to the UUA, MUUSJA, Standing on the Side of Love, MidAmerica Region, the UUSC, and the UUCSJ, each of which has donated sign ificant staff time and infrastructural support to our solidarity efforts.
But now, beloveds, it is the responsibility of our broader faith to support the ongoing Ministry in Residence program at the UUFCBM. While clergy are not compensated for their time, we provide airfare, lodging, food, and local transportation, which average $1,500-2,000 a week. Our UU siblings in Bismarck have told us that this ministry is a crucial part of their ability to keep doing solidarity work on behalf of our broader faith, and they have asked us to ensure that it continues as long as it is needed.
Today, as we write to you, the #NoDAPL struggle is entering a new phase. Several of the camps have been forcibly evacuated since Wednesday, and Water Protectors have been arrested en masse. New camps are being built farther away from the river. The legal and spiritual battle is far from over, and our Unitarian Universalist siblings in Bismarck have committed to working in solidarity with the Water Protectors until the fight has been won. As Unitarian Universalists, it is our spiritual and moral obligation to support their ministry, and to do whatever we can to ensure that the UUFCBM can say “yes” to whatever requests come their way from the Water Protectors.
Our collective Unitarian Universalist response to Standing Rock is exactly the kind of ongoing, multivalent, nimble response to social, environmental, and spiritual crisis is exactly what will be required of Unitarian Universalists in the coming months and years. We have deep faith that among us, there is incredible abundance, and that we can adopt a “posture of yes,” knowing we will come up with the money and human resources required to act quickly when we are called upon. Will you make a donation today to support the UU Ministry in Residence in solidarity with Standing Rock? And as you do, will you also make a donation to the Women's Council - a grassroots organization that relies solely on public support and primarily assists women, children and elders. Your support will assist with rooms, gas cards, and bus tickets to evacuate remaining people from camp. Donate directly to Melanie Stoneman's paypal using firstname.lastname@example.org
Our UU congregation in Augusta, Maine commissioned their minister Rev. Carie Johnson to serve as minister in residence the Sunday before she left. They said “In sending Rev. Carie to North Dakota we generously share the gifts of ministry with our sister congregation and their minister. In doing so, we are intentionally engaging in the act of shared ministry with the wider Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, with the native and non-native water protectors at Standing Rock, and ultimately with Mother Earth....We celebrate our ability to be a living manifestation of our centuries old covenant: rooted in both the autonomy of our communities and a clear commitment to our congregations supporting one another in concrete ways, as an embodiment of our shared faith and work for justice.”
We are grateful for your commitment, your faith, and your generosity.
Mni Wiconi -- Water is Life!
In faith and solidarity,
Rev. Ashley Horan, Rev. Elizabeth Nguyen & Nora Rasman
The Standing Rock Ministry-in-Residence organizing team
Rev. Marisol Caballero, Austin, TX
Rev. Julie Taylor, St. Louis, MO
Rev. Carie Johnson, Augusta, ME
Rev. Jill Cowie, Boston, MA