February Message from Our Minister
Uncovering Hidden Stories
Rev. Andrée Cornelia Mol
Minister, Central Unitarian Church
As I’ve shared before, I moved to a small, rural town in Vermont following ten years in Manhattan. After my move, friends and family frequently came to visit. I’d show them around our new town, which didn’t take long given its size. The drive from downtown to the trailer park at the edge of town took only a few minutes.
Frequently, my guests looked at some of the rundown houses throughout town or the trailer park, and they remarked: “Isn’t it hard living somewhere with so much poverty?” When I pointed out that the city where they lived had much more poverty than my small town, they didn’t seem to understand the connection. I didn’t bother to question their assumptions, such as the connection they’d made between poverty and trailer homes.
Similarly, as I got to know my neighbors in my town, I found many of them talking down about our local city of Rutland, Vermont. Many of my neighbors spoke disparagingly about the crime and drug use endemic in Rutland. Such comments influenced my decision to volunteer with the local correctional facility and community justice organization when I began seminary. There, I worked directly with those deemed criminals and drug addicts.
I learned two important lessons from these encounters. First, those experiencing incarceration, poverty, drug addiction, and mental illness have much more in common with me than I had assumed when these were just “issues” hidden from my sight and kept at arm’s length because communities found them unsavory and inconvenient. Second, these issues exist everywhere in our country. Just because I didn’t see them, I should assume they are not there.
The clients in my volunteer work were struggling to change and improve their lives. But the forces of incarceration, mental illness, drug addiction, and poverty are enormous and reach far beyond any one community, much less any individual. I learned more from them than they probably ever learned from me as a young minister.
Some people do not want to hear about or talk about the immense inequalities and injustices that exist in our world and are embedded in our history. They either ignore, deny, or even attempt to erase such stories. They claim to want to “protect” our children from them.
The real harm comes from hiding these stories. Denying them only creates barriers between us and the people who actually experience them. Sharing these stories brings us closer to our human siblings, ensures we remain aware of the reality of our world, and gives us a path toward creating the future we dream about.
This month, as we explore the themes of equality and justice, seek out stories of those in our community whom you do not know. How are our neighbors in Bergen County struggling with the challenges of racism, incarceration, poverty, mental illness, and addiction? Consider what those stories teach us about ourselves and ways that CUC might better serve our community in the years ahead.
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