Social Justice Blog

of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington

Save Lives – End the Stigma of Addiction

April 17, 2016

save lives - end the stigma of addiction

Banner on First Parish lawn April 2016

Save Lives – End the Stigma of Addiction

65 people died of drug overdoses in Middlesex County (which includes Arlington) in the first 98 days of 2016.

Kelsey Grace Endicott, age 23, died of an overdose on April 2. The obituary written by her mother was painfully but inspiringly honest and has been read by thousands of people worldwide:

First Parish Arlington and the Arlington Police Department believe in saving lives by ending the stigma of addiction and providing treatment, Naloxone/Narcan (which reverses opioid overdoses), and other positive assistance to people with addictions and their families and friends. See below the open letter that First Parish sent the Arlington Police Department in September 2015, thanking the APD for its leadership in developing more compassionate and wiser ways to respond to addiction.

Several decades of the “war on drugs” approach of stigmatizing and punishing people failed to reduce the availability of drugs or the harm they do. Too many people like Kelsey have died, and too many families have suffered heartache.

Please join with us in opening our hearts to those struggling with addictions, promoting public health approaches to addiction, and ending the punitive policies that have done so much harm – especially to people of color, who have often been targeted for enforcement even though white people are more likely to be addicted to and overdose from opioids.

Do you need help?

If you or someone else might be experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Say “someone is not breathing” and give your address or a clear description of your location.

• Signs of overmedication or overdose include mental confusion, pinpoint pupils, intense drowsiness or difficulties waking someone from sleep, slow or stopped breathing, limp body, pale and/or clammy face, a blue cast to the fingernails or lips, and vomiting.

• Administer Naloxone if you have it, keep the person warm (no cold showers!), and put them on their side if they are breathing independently or support their breathing with oxygen or rescue breathing if you can. Stay with them until help arrives.

Contact the Arlington Police Department at 781-643-1212 or 112 Mystic Street. Their on-staff clinician can refer you to a variety of treatment options, dispense Naloxone and train you in its use, and otherwise provide non-judgmental assistance to people with addictions and those who care about them.

Call the #StateWithoutStigMA Hotline at 1-800-327-5050 (tty: 1-800-439-2370).

Contact Wicked Sober at 855-953-7627 or

Come to meetings at First Parish Arlington:

• Narcotics Anonymous, every Saturday, 10:30-11:30 a.m. in the Bailey Room.
• Alcoholics Anonymous, every Wednesday, 7:00-8:30 p.m. in the Bailey Room.
• SMART Recovery (a non-12-step program), every Tuesday, 7:00-8:30 p.m. in the Bailey Room. Learn more about SMART Recovery at

An Open Letter from First Parish Arlington to the Arlington Police Department:

September 9, 2015

Dear Chief Ryan,

The members of First Parish Arlington thank you for your leadership in improving the Arlington Police Department’s responses to people in vulnerable populations and encouraging the use of restorative justice practices in Arlington.

We especially thank you for the new Arlington Outreach Initiative, which recognizes addiction as a disease and aims to reduce its devastating effects by providing addicts and their families with information, access to treatment, and Narcan. Several families in our First Parish community have lost young people to addiction, and we know that this initiative may well save lives.

We would also like to congratulate you on the renewed grant funding for the Jail Diversion Program. We are very grateful that Arlington is able to provide a mental health clinician who works with officers to respond to the needs of people whose behavior reflects underlying mental illnesses, substance abuse problems, and/or developmental disabilities. We agree with you that incarcerating such people is often counter-productive as well as deeply lacking in compassion.

Finally, we appreciate your support of restorative justice ideas and programs, both in Arlington and statewide. Restorative justice, we believe, is important for keeping people out of the criminal justice system, promoting reconciliation and healing, and creating a better model for justice-making in our communities. We are proud that Arlington’s Police Department participates in the Communities for Restorative Justice program. We are also grateful for your active support of the Act Promoting Restorative Justice Practices (H.1313/S.71) that was filed by Arlington’s Representative Sean Garballey and Senator Jamie Eldridge.

Thank you very much for your leadership in making Arlington a safe community for all of our residents, including those with special challenges or going through hard times.


For First Parish Arlington

John Hodges
Chair, Parish Committee, the governing board of First Parish Arlington

Rev. Marta Morris Flanagan

Lori Kenschaft
Coordinator, Mass Incarceration Working Group of First Parish’s Social Justice Committee

Cc: Arlington Board of Selectmen
Arlington Advocate
Boston Globe
First Parish Spire

Green Sanctuary Stands with the Pope’s Encyclical

July 1, 2015

UUA President Peter Morales and UUSC President and CEO Bill Schulz issued a joint statement in response to the Papal Encyclical on Climate Change:
Pope Francis urgently appeals ‘for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.’ Unitarian Universalists have initiated just such a dialogue with Commit2Respond, an unprecedented coalition of UU groups and people of conscience devoted to shifting to a low-carbon future, advancing the human rights of communities affected by climate change, and growing the climate justice movement. As people of faith, Unitarian Universalists and their allies are called to respond to this crisis in ways that recognize our position in ‘the interdependent web of all existence.’

From the First Parish Green Sanctuary Team:
Climate justice means that we recognize that as fossil fuel corporations push to extract more oil regardless of the dire social and environmental consequences, it is often the poorest and most vulnerable populations who are hurt. Whether due to loss of land from rising sea levels, or loss of migrant worker jobs due to drought, the most marginalized in our society are also the first victims of climate change. The Climate Justice movement sees their struggles for justice at the heart of our movement to address climate change, because without widespread support for justice for the victims, no moral call to halt the use of fossil fuels can succeed.


June 26, 2015

Banner on the First Parish lawn

Celebrate Pride Banner


What is this banner doing at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Arlington? 

Several years ago, our congregation went through the formal process of becoming a Welcoming Congregation. In short, we believe in creating a welcoming community for all regardless of gender identity and/or sexual orientation.

Why is the banner up now (June/July 2015)?

The banner shows our support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer pride. This community has a tradition of parades in June commemorating the Stonewall Riots, seen by many as a watershed moment in which the LGBTQ community began resisting the homophobia and discrimination preventing full participation in American society. These marches have served many purposes, including as declarations of community pride, demonstrations of solidarity and activism in response to HIV/AIDS, and as touchpoints for movements advocating for LGBTQ individuals to have the right to serve in the military and for other civil rights including gay marriage rights. The other reason the banner is currently on display is in response to the historic decision from the United States Supreme Court granting same sex couples marriage rights in all 50 states.

What’s the big deal about gay marriage?

In a nutshell, before the decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, a majority of states – but not all states – recognized the rights of same sex couples to state and some of federal benefits accruing to heterosexual married couples. Heterosexual marriages are generally recognized across state lines, if the couple married legally in their home state. Same sex couples face a patchwork of recognition and a variety of challenges when building their families, facing illness, employment discrimination, other hardship, and moving across state lines. In the Obergefell decision, the Supreme Court grants full marriage rights to same sex couples as the law of the land, as has been done in many other countries to date.

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.” – from the Decision

In short, the 14th Amendment grants same sex couples “equal dignity in the eyes of the law”, and, therefore, the Constitutional right to marry. The matter of “equal dignity” is especially important for us as Unitarian Universalists because it embodies our sacred First Principle: the inherent worth and dignity of every person. This is the big deal. A very big deal indeed.

What is the meaning of the rainbow symbol?

The rainbow has been a symbol for the LGBTQ community for more than 50 years.

How do Unitarians view LGBTQ rights?

Unitarians support equality, respect, and dignity for all, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, class or citizenship status, race, physical ability, or other important aspects of identity. Much of this social justice work takes place through Standing on the Side of Love.

How do I connect with First Parish Unitarian Universalist Arlington about LGBTQ issues? We host social and educational events throughout the year. For more information, email diversity @ (remove the spaces before and after the ‘@’).

Black Lives Matter

June 14, 2015

At least seven First Parish members were among the approximately 800 people who attended the Judiciary Committee hearing at the State House on Tuesday, June 9. The legislators heard testimony for and against (mostly for) ending mandatory minimums for drug offenses and reforming pretrial processes so that bail decisions are based on risk assessments rather than how much money someone has.

Later that evening, at the Social Justice Committee’s recommendation, the Parish Committee voted to display a Black Lives Matter banner in front of First Parish.

One purpose of this banner is to express support for legislative initiatives and other reforms that will help end mass incarceration and promote justice in our state’s and country’s policing, court, and prison systems.

More fundamentally, this banner expresses our belief that all lives matter, and that in this time and place we particularly need to affirm the importance of black people’s lives, experiences, and well-being.

We recognize that we are part of an interconnected web. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We are trying to do our part to nurture justice.

What does Climate Justice Mean?

April 8, 2015

The banner outside church this month says ‘Climate Justice Month.’ What does that mean?

For many of us our first connection to environmentalism is intensely personal.  We feel a spiritual connection to the beauty of the earth walking in the woods, hiking a mountain, looking at the boundless ocean horizon or watching a sunset.  The idea that this beauty is threatened by  pollution, poisons dumped in our air and water, or by development is painful, and has spurred us to action. As Judy Collins put it ‘they paved over paradise and put up a parking lot’, or in Arlington, we were unable to stop development in the Silver Maple Forest.

We also are moved by love of wild things – whether they be close to home like the birds migrating in spring, or remote like the humpback whales that roam off our shores or penguins in antarctica, we instinctively know to live in a world with other creatures is our purpose.  We are part of a web of life.

Today we are confronted by the greatest pollution problem in the history of humanity – the pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate that will drastically change our climate.  Already this is contributing to the sixth great global extinction, the first caused by beings, not geological or physical forces.

Yet we face a paradox – that we also depend on fossil fuels for our food and agriculture, our work, our ability to move around, and our comfort.

In response we have developed creative programs.  In the Unitarian Universalist Association these have included Green Sanctuary, where our congregation has committed to meet a number of environmental goals, and has installed solar power; to changes in diet to eat less meat or more locally sourced food, and to divest from fossil fuels, as per the national resolution adopted by the UUA General Assembly.

Yet none of these actions are sufficient to attack climate change.  The reason is that carbon pollution is embedded in our society, our government and power structure.

Those of us who thought that once the science of global warming was overwhelmingly proven, we would then see governments act to restrain pollution have found vast inequalities of wealth and power has frustrated that hope.

We have created a system where profit drives our relationships with each other, and we have tolerated extreme levels of poverty and degradation and marginalized people and communities.  Those who profit from this degradation are the same as those fighting against changing our dependence on fossil fuels.

These most marginalized communities are also the most vulnerable to losses from climate change.

In a close to home example, our record shattering winter is partly due to the more intense storms forecast by scientists as a consequence of global warming, and record warm temperatures in Siberia, which changed the normal pattern of the jet stream.

All of us suffered from closed schools, missed days at work, and difficult conditions.  But the people at the bottom of the economic ladder- those who work for hourly wages, who don’t have cars, who rely on commuting into Boston for low wage jobs – those people lost their paychecks when the transportation system shut down.

Federal disaster aid will reimburse cities and towns for snow removal, and may even compensate some business for lost income.  But no program will pay back the lost wages of the most marginal among us – who were most hurt by the storms.

Climate Justice means those people should be paid lost wages.  It means people most hurt by pollution and consequences of pollution have to be first in line for mitigation and relief.

Climate Justice means that the fight against inequality and marginalization of people facing immense disasters through no fault of their own must be part of the fight to end carbon pollution.

Without paying attention to justice issues, the climate movement remains the province of those who can afford to care, not the province of everyone who needs to care.

Two great events in New York had national significance and brought this home.  The first was Occupy Wall St. un 2011.   This movement made clear that the interests of the 99% are not the same as the 1%.  The richest 1% of Americans own greater wealth than the bottom 90% of Americans put together.  Redistributing wealth by making taxation more equal and asking the wealthy to pay their fair share was popularized by Occupy.  Sacrificing the well being of the majority of people to support the wealthy is morally wrong.

By focusing on inequality,  Occupy’s message resonated with many communities, and had widespread support among communities of color, poor communities, and students.

The second event was the People’s Climate March held last September, called by many organizations including  What had been billed as a march of maybe 200,000 people brought out over 400,000 and was joined by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and many other celebrities and politicians. A number of people from First Parish attended, as did those from many UU churches.  The amazing thing about that march was its diversity – it reflected the same commitment to end the status quo that had been part of Occupy, but now focused on a more specific goal.

Climate Justice is a moral recognition that our two struggles – for human rights and for a livable earth – are inextricably linked.  The forces that have profited from massive economic inequality, slavery, colonization, genocide, and mass incarceration are the same ones profiting from the carbon pollution that is causing irreversible damage to our planet.

We call it climate justice instead of environmentalism to make this connection clear.  Climate justice means that as we build a movement to end carbon pollution, we also commit to following the lead of and supporting peoples who are impacted by and fighting climate change.  This is true whether it is islanders in Vanuatu, where 90% of their crops were destroyed by Cyclone Pam last month, or migrant farm workers in California, who are forced to drive hundreds of miles to look for work, or who may have no income at all because of record shattering drought.

Climate Justice means recognizing and embracing the humanitarian needs of those most affected by climate change, including those whose lack of resources makes them vulnerable to catastrophe. Joining the fight against injustice is the only way that ultimately can lead to changes that will reverse global warming because it is the injustice that denies the humanity of people that is also the root cause of our planetary emergency.  Unless we recognize that truth, our climate efforts will fall short.

Faith Communities, including representatives from the UUA and many local UU churches have come together to form Commit to Respond  after the People’s Climate March, which is sponsoring climate justice month.


January 23, 2015
#BlackLivesMatter banner at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Arlington January 2015

#BlackLivesMatter banner at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Arlington January 2015. Photo by Mark Wilke

Last December 400 people came to a Black Lives Matter vigil that started under our maple tree and was organized, start to finish, in just six days.  At least 60 of us were First Parish folks.  I was impressed and delighted by this turnout.

A little while later a friend in Winchester sent me a photo of a “Black Lives Matter” banner that a UCC church in Somerville had mounted above their front door.  I thought it was a moving statement of their commitment to racial justice, and started asking folks whether we might want to have a similar banner at First Parish.  Discussion ensued, the Social Justice Committee and Parish Committee said yes, and now the 400 people who were here last month but can’t spend all their time under the maple tree have been replaced by a statement of our shared belief that Black Lives Matter.

We don’t intend this to be a permanent installation.  Indeed, the Parish Committee and Social Justice Committee are working together to create a physical and policy process by which we can easily mount other banners in response to emerging events.  No banner will stay for more than a month, so it won’t get old and stop being noticed.  We might have a banner for Gay Pride Month, or Earth Day, or in witness to future events yet unforeseen.

So this banner is in part an experiment.  What size works well?  What should we know about mounting banners before creating a more permanent banner frame?

It is also a statement of our community’s belief in the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  We believe that all lives matter, and that includes black lives.  We believe that how people live matters, not just how people die.

Both nationally and locally, many people are taking a new look not just at police brutality and killings, but also at the much broader ways in which we as a culture have devalued black people and black lives.  This banner is, I believe, one way to contribute to this conversation – to use our highly visible corner to witness to our values and our beliefs.  I am grateful to everyone who helped make it a reality.


– Lori Kenschaft

(Coordinator, Mass Incarceration Working Group)

Welcome to the First Parish Social Justice Blog!

January 11, 2015

first parish members demonstratingGeneral Purpose: First Parish’s Social Justice Committee is the central resource and conduit for individual and collective endeavors as our congregation challenges the excesses and injustices of our time. The Social Justice Committee serves the congregation as a clearinghouse for individuals and groups working to live their faith through ameliorating, addressing, and/or eradicating forces that threaten human dignity.

We support people working both within our congregation via Working Groups and those working in the wider community.

Some of the ways you might engage with the Social Justice Committee:

  • The Giving First program
  • Interfaith initiatives in Arlington, including the Arlington Food Pantry, the Gun Buyback program, Interfaith Power, Arlington Martin Luther King Dinner, and Housing Corporation of Arlington Annual Walk.
  • We coordinate Living Our Faith and Shinn Services
  • We host an annual Social Justice Pot Luck.
  • We raise operating funds annually through Pie Palace, a congregation-wide effort.
  • Our involvement in the UU Urban Ministry 
  • In accordance with the First Parish Policy on Public Witness and Social  Action, we provide consultation and coordination for social actions proposed by members of the congregation.
  • Work with membership to engage new members of the congregation to others with similar interests

With our new blog, we hope to enrich dialog about Social Justice work at First Parish. We will feature our own current events, as well as those of our Working Groups.

Got an idea? A question? Drop us a line:

Also, be sure to check out our calendar of upcoming events

We are accepting nominations for the Giving First program until January 31. Please visit

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