RESTON, VA — A small group of churchgoers joined the Rev. Dr. Debra W. Haffner of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reston on Saturday morning to dedicate a new Black Lives Matter banner and a rainbow flag, replacing ones that had been vandalized and stolen earlier in the year.
“We are here today because we are living our vision,” Haffner said during the dedication. “UUCR is our 21st century beloved home, advancing equity and justice in our congregation and in our community. Living our faith aloud, letting all of Reston as it travels on Wiehle Avenue see our commitment to all people, that justice for all is why we hang these flags.”
The banner and flag also serve as a reminder to the UUCR community of its commitment to its faith, which was founded on the dignity and worth of all people.
“Too many people do not recognize the rights of everyone, ” Haffner said. “So we proudly hang this flag and this banner to claim the rights and worth and dignity of the LGBTQ people and the rights and worth and dignity of Black people, of Indigenous people, and of people of color.”
The original Black Lives Matter banner was stolen in June, just a week after it had been dedicated. The church’s rainbow flag, which symbolizes UCCR’s support for the LGBTQ+ community, has been vandalized and stolen four times previously.
“What I want people in the community to know to those who perpetrated the hate crimes is to know that we will put up a new banner and a new flag every time they are stolen,” Haffner said.
One difference this time, however, is UCCR has installed a hidden surveillance camera directed at the banner and rainbow flag to capture images of anyone who might steal them.
“We will be able to take your photo if you vandalize these flags, not to have you arrested but to enter into restorative justice with you,” Haffner said. “To talk with you. To tell you why we know that God loves all of us just the way that we are and ask for your service to make reparations to our community.”
Mindful of social distancing concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic, Haffner only invited a small group of church members to Saturday’s ceremony.
“I wish that more people could be present and share in the energy that it’s really going to take to make some changes in our world,” UUCR member Barbara Okerson said.
UUCR member Marsha Hughes-Rease said the ceremony served as a message to the Reston community and hopefully to the rest of the state of how committed Unitarian Universalists are to social justice.
“Especially in this time right now, when the rights of so many different people are being infringed on and people are feeling marginalized,” she said. “I think that this flag and this banner are symbolic of the ideology and the philosophy and the commitment of the Unitarian Universalist Church.”
Chris Topoleski, leader of UUCR’s LGBTQ+ Task Force, had grown up with different religions, but none had resonated with him until he joined the Unitarian Universalist community in Reston.
“It’s just a home for everyone,” he said, “and I just absolutely love working with these people and enjoy the community that we have here.”
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