I went to church last night.
We drove three hours to get there, my 17-year-old son and I. We went to a middle school gymnasium, in a geographically isolated area of Virginia far from the affluence of Northern Virginia. Hundreds of people gathered in support of Union Hill, in Buckingham County, where the largest fracked gas compressor station ever built is planned to be placed in an historically African American community. Banners hung from the bleachers: Defend what you Love. Water is Life. Together We Rise.
As long as I live, be it one more day, or another 30 years, I will never forget holding hands with my son and the person next to me while singing, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let it Shine” and “We Shall Overcome…Today. We Shall Not Be Afraid…Today.” I will never forget leaping to my feet again and again as Al Gore and the Reverend Dr. William Barber spoke with moral authority in a preacher’s cadence that we must speak truth to power: the pipeline and compressor station are scandalous, sinful, reckless, racist, wrong.
We are all Union Hill. At one point or another in our lives, We Are All Union Hill. Somebody is going to take away our rights. Somebody is going to ignore our pleading requests. Somebody is going to say one thing and do another thing. And what can we do? What can the least of us do? Do we move away to someplace safe? Do we pull inward in bitterness and defeat? We can sing. We can protest. We can place signs in our yards. We can stand together. As the church banner read that Al Gore witnessed, sometimes we must:
Stand for Something, Even if You Stand Alone.
Some of the most powerful moments for me have happened in church: my grandfather collapsing on the open casket of my grandmother. The baptism of my children. Getting married. Shape note singing as we stomped in time on floorboards that still bear the stains of civil war soldiers brought there after a battle. Hands being laid on a youth group leader before he headed off to Africa. And especially the preaching. I have always loved moments in a sermon that strip the dead leaves from the branches like a mighty wind, that soar transcendent like the wings of dove, that remind us to “love the love that loves to love” as Van Morrison sings.
There’s a church phrase I often think about: bearing witness. I went to Union Hill to bear witness. I stood on holy ground. I heard preaching. I heard testimony. I heard and was moved by gospel singing. I am renewed in my commitment to stop the pipelines, to fight injustice, to stand for something.
See also: Blue Virginia post.