At Saugatuck Church, Black Lives Matter

Westport has many beautiful churches. But in terms of looks — and denomination — it doesn’t get more New England-y than Saugatuck Congregational.

Old, wooden, white, and set back on a broad lawn in the heart of downtown, Saugatuck Church makes a strong statement to everyone about history and heritage.

Now it’s making a strong statement about current events, and the role of a religious institution in modern society.

A “Black Lives Matter” sign has been hung across the front of the church. 

And it’s not a yard sign, or a banner you must squint to read.

The sign is big. It’s bold. It’s meant to be seen by everyone.

(Photo/Priscilla Long)

Yesterday morning — socially distanced because of COVID, but shoulder to shoulder emotionally — the church blessed the sign. 

Harold Bailey — chair of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural committee — spoke briefly.

On Friday, Pastor Alison Patton sent a letter to her congregation. She wrote:

We are getting ready to hang a Black Lives Matter banner on the façade of Saugatuck Church. We do so to support those among us who are black and brown, during a year that has been particularly hard on people of color, and to express our commitment to work against racism. This is a project initiated by our Arts and Ministry Team and unanimously supported by our Saugatuck Church Council.

Among the many inter-locking experiences that have defined 2020 is a heightened focus on systemic racism and its impact on communities of color. In response, many of you have taken steps to deepen your understanding of racism – reading, discussing, marching and asking, “What more can I do?” You have leaned into this moment with courage and curiosity.

Rev. Alison Patton

Together, we have grieved the harm inflicted on those among us who are black and brown. We have prayed, held small group discussions and shared resources to support our collective learning. We’ve begun to explore the uncomfortable reality that those of us who are white have advantages in this culture that are not afforded people of color.

We are only just beginning what is truly a life-long project: to unmask racism, unlearn our own biases, and develop the tools to build diverse, equitable and inclusive communities. As I said on Sunday, this is hard work; it is also heart work. It is uncomfortable and necessary and holy.

Why “Black Lives Matter”?

The work begins when we say, out loud, to each other and to our neighbors, that black lives matter – as much as any other lives. It is a deceptively simple assertion that has stirred up all kinds of discomfort, usually among those of us who are white. Some worry it implies that black lives matter more, or that other lives matter less. 

It might help to know that this line got its start not as a message to white folks, but as a tweet by Alicia Garza, who is black, to her own black community, at a time when they were feeling particularly vulnerable. It was a 16-character love letter.** To repeat her words now is to challenge the systems that have perpetuated inequality in ways that deny the intrinsic worth of black lives.

I know you’ve heard me say this before: I am deeply convinced that we are called to this project as people of faith and, in particular, as followers of Jesus, who insisted on the God-created value of all people and showed us how to love publicly in a world of inequality.

And I believe that church is the perfect place to launch this work: here, where we can wrestle, confess, forgive, learn, listen, stumble, get back up, reach out, and practice loving – ourselves and each other – the whole way through.

During the 2016 election, Saugatuck Church was open for prayer and reflection.

So, What’s Next?

When Council gave its support to the banner proposal, we did so with the recognition that we need to pair the words with real efforts to equip ourselves to confront and dismantle racism. Here are our next steps:

  • On Saturday, 30 members of Saugatuck Church will participate in a racial justice workshop led by Dr. Donique McIntosh, Minister for Racial Justice for our Southern New England Conference.
  • **On Thursday, October 29, our online small group, VOICES, will feature a podcast about the origin and history of Black Lives Matter.

This is just the start. There are more learning opportunities in the works. We will continue to dig deeper, examine our own habits, seek out partners, and ask what more needs to be done to banish racism in our lives, our church and the world. Please reach out to me if you have questions or ideas about these efforts.

Beloved, I am so honored to be doing this work in partnership with you. May God bless our words and our actions, our listening and our learning. May the Christ in our midst keep us curious and brave.


35 responses to “At Saugatuck Church, Black Lives Matter

  1. Tom Feeley Sr.

    blm (sic) is hardly a Christian organization worth your support ⛪️🇺🇸

    • ANY organization that stands for love, respect and justice is, by nature, Christian. I hope you read her explanation of why they hung the banner. Denying that people with darker skin face greater violence and discrimination than light-skinned folk, or feeling threatened by a statement that simply says that a group MATTERS – not that it matters more – is what’s un-Christian.

    • Russell Gontar

      The syndicate formally known as “the republican party” and now metastasized into the Fox/Trump party is hardly a “christian” organization when, amoung other activities, they’re fine with ripping babies and children from their mothers and storing them in cages. That evil deed is still going on. But oh yes, they are given aluminum foil for blankets. How very christian. I guess they worked out a deal with Renolyds Wrap.

    • Tom, I have always respected you. But I can’t respect that comment in the slightest.

      BLM is about this nation practicing what it preaches. It is about not continuing to treat African Americans as second class citizens. It is about the disproportionate victimization of African Americans by the law enforcement community.

      If you have something substantive to say, I welcome that. But the knee-jerk racism serves no positive purpose. It’s reactive and adds nothing substantive to an important national conversation.

      • Tom feeley Sr

        Hi Chris. BLM is accurately described by Mark Bachman later in this thread. BLM Is n anti American organization run by Marxist’s with a sweet sounding catchy name that sucks in the uninformed. Of course black lives matter but not that organization. You are way off in your criticism as I said nothing racist. C’mon Man, you’re smarter than your comment. 😂🇺🇸

        • Tom, the BLM/Antifa narrative manufactured by fake conservative opinion sources is picked up and run with by reactionaries who are scared by the diversification of America. That there is hardly a national BLM “organization” but you guys want to assign it some institutional power only shows how your fear of a changing world makes you clueless.

          Marxists? Seriously? I can only assume that since conservatives have been ridiculously shouting “socialist” and “communist” for so long that they need to expand their repertoire.

          With an idiot President who has stoked racial animosity, the black community (with the aid of cell phone technology that makes everyone a witness) has collectively said “enough is enough” with the Brionna Taylors and the George Floyds of the world. But people who don’t care that African Americans are killed by law enforcement at twice the rate of white people manufacture nonsensical claims about antifa in order to distract from a bona fide national concern.

          And, as we saw in Westport the other week, it’s these same people who try to contribute to this strife by pretending to be from the black community, stirring up racial tension.

          To echo your words, Tom, you’re smarter than that.

  2. Dave Donnelly

    Beautiful sign on a beautiful church ! Let’s all do our part to support and promote racial and social equality.

  3. Jonathan Berg

    can someone else please translate what exactly “blm (sic)” is meant to imply?

  4. Mr. Feeley’s Facebook profile is littered with Pro Trump / anti-Biden posts, including one that states that Biden is a liar, which coming from a Trump supporter is comical but as to be expected. All credibility lost. Mr. Feeley, glad to left CT and moved down to FL. You can stay there.

  5. Priscilla Long

    Hi Jonathan Berg – I hope that you read Alison’s letter to our congregation – it really gives a great deal of information. BLM means that Black Lives Matter – no more than anyone else, but as much as anyone else. For centuries, people of color – black and brown – have experienced life much differently than white folks. The BLM is an organization promoting racial equity. There is lots of information about BLM available, and our church is having ongoing conversations about racial equity – please feel free to join us.

    • Jonathan Berg

      Of course, great sign, I’m just wondering what he meant by “blm (sic)” – putting (sic) on your own comment is obviously meant to imply something he doesn’t want to say outright.

  6. Kathryn Sirico

    As important…….Our police lives matter…..they give us their lives to protect ALL of us…….where are the banners??

    • Kathryn – there are black and brown-skinned police officers: it isn’t an either/or. People who become police officers know that they are signing up for a job that may put them in harm’s way, and they are also one of the only groups legally allowed to carry a deadly weapon to protect themselves. Black people are being arrested, shot and killed at 2.5 times the rate of white people even though they only represent 13% of the population, far less in some communities. Please don’t make this about something else when all that is being asked is to acknowledge that the lives of people with darker skin matter just as much as the lives of those of us with lighter skin and should be treated with equal respect. It’s really that straightforward.

    • Diane Johnson

      This short video may help explain the difference when hate is directed simply based on the color of one’s skin:

    • The difference, Kathryn, is that there’s never really been a question about whether the lives of law enforcement officer’s lives “matter”. We already act as a society in a way that makes it clear they do.

      When police officers are injured or killed, the full resources of the justice system ensure that their killers are caught and convicted in very short order. There is never a question about whether their lives “mattered” because the system makes it absolutely clear that they do. Those of us who say “black lives matter” simply want the same thing. That we seek to minimize the deaths of black Americans at the hands of police officers, and when those deaths do occur that they get the full support of our justice system at making it clear their lives mattered.

      Secondly, you might be surprised to know that very few police are actually intentionally killed in the line of duty. Turns out there simply aren’t a lot of people who want to kill police officers. It’s not even in the top 10 list of occupations where one is likely to die while on the job. That’s not to say that those deaths are acceptable, just simply to put it in perspective. Far more black Americans are killed by police than police are killed by anyone.

      Regardless, I commend the church for doing this!

    • Conflating a chosen career path with a biological trait is both a bizarre and inappropriate comparison.

    • Really not as important at all. Cops choose their job and collect a paycheck for performing it.

  7. There is absolutely NOTHING that a fervent Trump supporter can say or do that would surprise me these days, but to read the comment by Tom Feeley, Sr. simply saddens me because his view must be fueled, in my opinion, by racism……if I’m wrong sir, please speak up.
    One’s color “should not” matter, but in reality it has in such a negative way for way too many people for way too long in our nation’s history. But, as the saying goes, “better late than never”, although I’m guessing Tom Feeley
    doesn’t truly care what’s good for EVERYONE…….hmmm, who does that remind anyone of?

  8. Donna Triangle


  9. Jenny Rago McCarthy

    I am heartened by this show of support and sickened that people think it’s disgusting or that it is a representation of anything but LOVE!
    Again, Bravo!!!

  10. I regret having to engage this discussion because one of the things I’ve always loved about Dan’s blog is that it’s been a place all of us can go to for discussions, and sometimes arguments, on local issues. There are plenty of other forums around on which we can, if we choose, immerse ourselves in the rancor now consuming our national politics.

    However, this posting compels me to say something. I could go on for a long time and probably even write a book on the subject, but I’ll keep it brief.

    The founders of the The Black Lives Matter movement are avowed Marxists – this is no secret even though it’s being downplayed as they seek to enlist the support of honest liberals. They are closely allied with Antifa and are actively promoting not just protests but violent protests in cities all over the country. They consider themselves professional revolutionaries and embrace everything that this designation entails. If allowed to run unchecked, they won’t stop with defunding the police.

    In my opinion, no religious organization dedicated to the spirit of love and peace should be abetting their activities.

  11. Allen R. Smithson

    Hi Mark,
    Let’s put aside for a minute your statement about it being public knowledge
    who started BLM…….do YOU believe that Black Lives TRULY Matter?
    I’m guessing I know the answer.

    Glug, glug, glug……. keep on drinking that kool-aid.

    • Mark Edward Bachmann

      Mr. Smithson, I’m not quite following the entire thrust of your post, but the most visible co-founder of the BLM organization is Ms. Patrisse Cullors. She has publicly described herself and Alicia Garza, another visible co-founder, as “trained Marxists”. I think we do this lady a disservice if we refuse to believe her own words.

      Again, I don’t like having this discussion on Dan’s blog. If you want to continue it, please let me know and I’ll send you my private email address.

  12. Thanks Mark🙏🇺🇸

  13. Gibson Daniels was the minister at the church from 1941 into the 1960s. In 1946 he encouraged the formation of Temple Israel, which first met in the church, at a time when genteel anti-Semitism was the norm and other Fairfield County upscale towns were restricted. It’s ashamed more ministers in those days didn’t speak up against anti-Semitism.

  14. John, as a gentile I couldn’t agree with you more.
    Yet the sad reality is that anti-semitism has been, and still is, widely prevalent.
    Plus you can tell from some of the people in this post that racism is still
    terribly front and center.

  15. Im proud of this church. We are all one family. God is the heavenly fatherbof us, even if we have different colored skin. Black lives do matter.