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If the land could speak, what stories would it tell?

Coastland Commons worshiping community in Seattle takes steps to learn about redlining and gentrification

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Coastland Commons, a new worshiping community, held community walks last fall to learn more about the history of redlining in Seattle. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — After COVID-19 forced the cancelation of planned projects and in-person worship, Coastland Commons, a 1001 New Worshiping Community in Seattle Presbytery,  moved to Zoom discussions about their city’s history of land use by Black, Indigenous and people of color communities. After about six months of Zoom gatherings, they figured out a safe way to see Seattle anew through socially distanced community walks. They reached out to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), which organizes redlining tours in Seattle’s Capitol Hill and Central District neighborhoods.

Although MOHAI’s guided redlining tours are canceled during COVID, the tour guide shared maps and information with the Coastland Commons group. “She was really generous,” said the Rev. Zac Calvo, organizing pastor of Coastland Commons and associate pastor of community and youth at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. “She gave us all her materials, so we followed her instructions. We were super grateful.”

“We ended up talking a lot about gentrification and how it in some ways reinforces and reestablishes what feels like redlining — it just now is less explicit than racial covenants.”

The Rev. Zac Calvo is a Seattle native, musician and organizing pastor of Coastland Commons, a 1001 New Worshiping Community in Seattle Presbytery. (Contributed photo)

One walk highlighted the history of Seattle and historic indigenous sites around Northminster Presbyterian Church, the fiscal sponsor and partner congregation of Coastland Commons. Another walk took a route along the border of historically redlined neighborhoods. About 10–15 people participated in each walk, Calvo said.

“We read actual racial covenants that were in these leases and property documents. You look at it and you are like, ‘Oh, my word,’” Calvo said. “And, to this day there are still leases and mortgages where those things, though not enforceable, still exist on the books in some places — even in Seattle.”

Although less explicit than a racial covenant from the 1950s that might say something like “No person of color or Asian descent can live in this neighborhood,” many injustices continue today, Calvo explained. “Even though we’ve said like, ‘We’re better, we’re better, we’re better,’ the reality is that a lot of these things get upheld, even when we say they’re gone.”

The tour guide — who supplied the materials and guidance for the group — refused to accept payment. Instead, she asked the group to donate to nonprofit organizations in Seattle working with underserved communities to address equity in housing and social services. Coastland Commons donated part of their 1001 Pivot Grant to Byrd Barr Place.

In the donation discerning process, Coastland Commons learned about the work of several nonprofits, including some that do urban gardening. The experience of the redlining tours and this learning about nonprofit organizations in Seattle has inspired folks at Coastland Commons to make plans to volunteer for some of these organizations. For now, they are discussing the best ways to provide support, and they look forward to volunteering when it is possible after COVID.

During the pandemic, Coastland Commons is having monthly “creative nights” on Zoom, which include a time of personal or creative reflection (15–20 minutes) and unstructured creative time (30–40 minutes). “We give people this time to kind of do whatever they want,” Calvo said. “Hey, I’m going to write or sketch or read a book or knit or lie down on the floor in silence in the dark for half an hour.” After creative time, everyone has an opportunity to regather on Zoom and if they would like they can share what they are working on or what having unstructured time meant to them.

Coastland Commons also has yoga nights on Zoom, led by certified yoga instructor Dani Forbess, pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church. During Lent, they also meet every Sunday evening on Zoom for “Your Lent Your Way,” about 30 minutes to talk about a theme and an intention for the week.

One-time pivot grants of $1,000 were awarded last year to 1001 New Worshiping Communities recognized by their presbytery. These grants were used to assist with shifting programs, new training, unanticipated expenses due to the pandemic or racial injustices in their communities.

“In all of the ways our own program shifted in 2020, the ability to fund these small pivot grants for about 135 new worshiping communities has provided outsized impact, both in the local neighborhoods receiving the funds and in our own growing understanding of the ways the newest communities among us are breathing new life into the larger PC(USA),” said the Rev. Nikki Collins, coordinator of 1001 New Worshiping Communities. “We hope the sharing of their creative and faithful witness will inspire all of our congregations to consider new opportunities for connection with each other and the world around us.”

Coastland Commons began in 2014 with a few musicians and a Kickstarter campaign to fund an album, with music inspired by the Emmaus Road story in Luke 24. It evolved into a 1001 New Worshiping Community.

Established primarily for Seattle’s artistic community, Coastland Commons is an LGBTQIA-affirming community that meets together around embodied creative practice for emotional, physical and spiritual growth. Until COVID-19, this meant sharing a meal, conversation and creative practices in song, prayer, Scripture and visual arts the second Monday of each month. Coastland Commons opposes racism in all its forms and explores the intersection of all human identities.


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