All Are Welcome (even those protesting us): Old First E-pistle 12.15.17

All Are Welcome (even those protesting us): Old First E-pistle 12.15.17

Thursday, as recorded by the news media, was a busy long day around Old First, much of it captured on film, focused on the Creche. I think I spent close to 12 hours outside related to “Creche-duty.”

In the midst of it all, about two in the afternoon, I noticed them. A group of three young adults near the creche — not lined up against the railing, but huddled in a group, sort of nervous-looking, standing off to themselves. I said to Scott, the head of the 4-H from Saul Agricultural High School,  “the protesters are here.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later, they had moved across 4th street and been joined by a few other young people. They were passing out signs. About seven in all. They came back across the street, and stood just south of the driveway entrance to the creche, protesting our exploitation of the animals.

We’re not sure why, but we have had more complaints this year (even before Thursday’s ‘Great Escapes’) than usual about the welfare of the animals. Every year there are a few. But this year, they have skyrocketed. Maybe because Stormy’s sheer size was hard to miss?

And Stormy’s two escapes and the reporting of that story nationwide has certainly gotten notice and the ire of folks who care about animal rights. Social media makes a great platform for registering one’s complaints (you can ask Senator Toomey about me!). You can see some of these protests or critiques on the church’s Facebook page. I would remind you that it’s our policy not to edit away comments on our Facebook: rather than “censorship,” we are committed, if we respond at all, to ‘more words’ and articulating our position. There you can also see this general response we have prepared:

“We want to let everyone know that Stormy the Cow is fine and has returned to the farm. The exact details of last night’s event are still being pieced together. In the meantime we want to thank the Philadelphia Police Department, Fire Department, Animal Control, and Health Department for their care and assistance.

Old First’s live nativity has been a Philadelphia holiday tradition since 1973. We take seriously our responsibility to care for these beautiful animals, and work closely with the farmer who supplies them to ensure their safety and well-being.

We invite you to stop by 4th & Race to visit the animals, who will remain at our crèche through December 27.”

But we are also trying to answer each individual who writes directly, sharing their concerns or asks questions. These seem to have fallen into 3 categories: 1) People who are worried about Stormy. 2) People who are concerned about the cold or other conditions the animals in the Creche face. 3) People who are against the ways farm animals or treated or the use of animal products. (We do not unfortunately feel we have the people-hours return all the phone calls.)

After our protesters had taken their position on 4th Street, I came back into the office. A group of volunteers from church was working on a mailing. I said, “We’ve got protesters.” They didn’t seem as excited about it as I was. I heard some moans and some defensive comments.

But I will always welcome protesters. Anything less would be hypocrisy for a church that believe in the power, even responsibility of protesting what we see as wrong. …And hypocrisy especially for me who was just arrested last month for protesting the Aloft Hotel’s refusal to make good on the commitments they made to bring down government funding!

I may not agree with our protesters that our care for the animals at the creche is abusive, neglectful, exploitative or wrong, but I stand with their right to protest. I even welcome their standing for what they believe.

Roxy had stopped by earlier Thursday afternoon. When she came back, before she came to check on me and the creche, I saw her talking with the protesters. I’m not even sure what she was saying to them. But when she got to me, I asked her, “would you mind going back over there to them? I’d like to offer them hot chocolate if they get cold.” I should have offered something else, as one of them responded, “We don’t drink animal products.” All right then, tea? And I should have relayed the message, “If any of you needs a bathroom while you are outside here protesting, please know we can open the church building for you.”

I’ll do better next time. There surely could be a next time… And we will welcome protesters, even those we disagree with, and those who are protesting us, because in the United Church of Christ we say, “No matter who you are or where you are on the journey, you are welcome here…”

See you in church (especially on Christmas Eve at 5:00 and 8:00 pm!),

Michael