Observing Ramadan in Bedford ~ Fahad Alden

This time of year, Bedford High School senior Fahad Alden sometimes finds it hard to focus in the afternoon if he has an exam or “mentally I need to be all there.”

There’s a good reason.

Alden is observing the obligation of Ramadan, a month-long observance during which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. “You have to fast for 30 days, from when the sun comes up to when the sun goes down,” Alden said. “It’s basically meant to instill gratitude for what we have. That’s the essence behind the 30 days.”

Passover ~ A Sense of Time

The first Passover seder took place hours before the Jewish people’s actual liberation from Egypt. And just prior to that ritual event, God pronounced his first commandment to the nascent nation.

It was about time.

“This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you,” says Exodus, chapter 12, verse 2.

So the first thing on the agenda of a nascent nation was to establish a calendar. And doesn’t that make perfect sense?

The First Parish Sanctuary Project ~ Part 1: From Immigrant to Family Member, Dedication Pays Off

After more than three years of protecting an undocumented immigrant who has become part of their family, volunteers at the First Parish Church can finally breathe a sigh of relief knowing their work wasn’t in vain.

“Glorious news!” wrote First Parish minister John Gibbons in an email sent to parishioners and volunteers. “This morning, Maria received official confirmation that she has a one-year stay of deportation.”

This means the church’s sanctuary guest, Maria Elena Macario, can get a work permit, pursue further legal options, and move out of the church.

Although Gibbons said Maria would “not be leaving the church imminently,” he did say that she was looking to find new living quarters with her sons.

“Maria is relieved, overjoyed, and thankful to God and to all who have helped and accompanied her for the last three years,” Gibbons said, as he thanked members of the Sanctuary Coalition.

Maria’s stay of deportation culminates years of dedication, patience, and hard work from the many volunteers who have done so much to protect their sanctuary guest.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of more than 400 dedicated volunteers from 10 local congregations banded together and scheduled around-the-clock shifts at First Parish to watch over Maria.

Ash-less Wednesday ~ A Reflection ~ The Rev. Chris Wendell ~ St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

This week marks the beginning of the Lenten season for many Christians, a time of preparation, repentance, and renewal.  But unlike every other year for at least the last millennium, this year for many Lent will not begin by marking a sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads.  Today may be the first Wednesday of Lent, but it is likely to be an “Ash-less Wednesday” for most.  The need to care for one another by limiting in-person contact to reduce the chance of spreading COVID has claimed congregational singing, preaching in person, the sharing of bread and wine, and now even the marking of our foreheads with ashes.

Ashes have been part of this day’s liturgical observances going back to the 6th century in at least some places.  Their formalization in the Western church’s customary was made universal in the 11th century.  Even in my part of the wider Christian family, which broke away from Roman Catholicism during the Reformation five centuries ago, the use of ashes on this day took a mere 250-year hiatus before working its way back into our traditions and customs.  It is one that many faithful Christians of all stripes may find themselves missing this year.

A Distant Coup Touches Bedford: Rev. Clifford Maung Speaks Out About His Homeland

The Rev. Clifford Maung of Bedford is pastor of the Overseas Burmese Christian Fellowship in Allston, a branch of the Baptist Church. There about 120 people affiliated, and they are distressed and anxious about current events in their homeland.

“We are very concerned about our country because we grew up under the military regime and we don’t want to go back to that,” Maung declared.

Burma, also known as Myanmar (military rulers changed its name in 1989), was thrown into turmoil on Feb. 1 when the military seized control following a general election that President Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won by a landslide. The forces, which backed the opposition, declared a year-long state of emergency after claims of widespread fraud.

The military has detained the president and all key leaders of her party, Maung reported, even arresting a popular singer whose theme is peace and reconciliation. Troops are operating at night when “they can do whatever they want. The police don’t protect; the police are going around and arresting people.”

Maung and others from the Burmese community are demonstrating and pleading their case in the hope that the U.S. government can exert pressure. President Joe Biden has issued an executive order to impose sanctions on the leaders of the coup, and steps are being taken to block access to government funds held in the United States. “We are hoping that he will do more,” Maung said.

Bedford’s MLK Day Observance to Feature UMass Lowell Historian, Dr. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant

A timely address by an award-winning University of Massachusetts Lowell historian will keynote Bedford Embraces Diversity’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day community observance, planned for the morning of Jan. 18 on Zoom.

Dr. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, associate professor of history, plans to explore “the historical roots of white supremacy in the US, focusing on the period after the Civil War, during which policies such as segregation and disfranchisement were put into effect.”

A link to the commemoration will be provided to those who register at bedfordembracesdiversity@gmail.com. The formal program will begin at 9:30 am; the meeting will open at 9.

Herbin-Trian’s talk “will draw connections to what took place in the Capitol last week, paying particular attention to the politics of white grievance.”

High Holy Days in the Time of Pandemic

The holiest days on the calendar begin Friday, September 18, at sundown. Because of the danger of Covid-19, the observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will be unlike anything experienced by Jewish communities over more than three millennia. Whether at limited outdoor services or on computer screens, participants will not be singing together, shaking hands, embracing, or hearing the actual sounds of the shofar – the ram’s horn – an essential part of the holiday repertoire. Jewish residents of Bedford, across the broad ideological spectrum, agree that this year the holidays will be missing one important cornerstone: the literal experience of community. The Chabad Center in Lexington is making the effort with an open-walled tent in the parking lot, where outdoor services are safer, said Joe Siegel.

Cordial Rallies on Bedford Common

Some two dozen demonstrators arrayed themselves at the north boundary of the town Common at 6 pm on Friday, facing The Great Road. And as they began their weekly rally in support of Black lives, a man and a woman dashed down the line, bumping elbows in lieu of high-fives and offering encouragement: “We support you guys, too.”

The boosters were Geoff Chase and Lee Lavi, organizers of a 3 o’clock rally that took place in the same spot, in support of the Bedford Police Department.

And although those two positions have resulted in acrimony and tension when crossing paths in many area towns, the confluence of rallies here, while not exactly a love-in, proved that each could deliver their messages positively.

Letter to the Editor: Celebrating the First Amendment

I haven’t been to a political demonstration in a few years. Having been distressed by the news in recent months, I decided to show up and make a statement with other Bedford citizens in support of the idea that Black lives matter.

Season of Creation: A Time to Celebrate the Natural World and to Re-commit to its Care

Early autumn is surely one of New England’s favorite seasons—the weather is mild and often sunny and the trees are beginning to turn into a panoply of color.  For those of us with a spiritual perspective, it is one of the best times to celebrate God’s Creation!

Over the past few years, Christian communities throughout the world have begun to do this in an intentional way with an emerging tradition called the Season of Creation.  The Season is now embraced by a wide variety of Christian traditions and communities, including The Episcopal Church.

Bedford Observes Juneteenth

At the behest of First Parishioner Dorothy Africa, a small group gathered on Bedford Common to observe Juneteenth, on Friday morning, June 19 marking the 155th anniversary of the announcement of the end of slavery to the citizens of Galveston, TX.

The Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 but the word took that long to reach Texas, to the benefit of local slaveholders. First Parish’s bell tolled 13 times at 10 am, to honor the 13th Amendment, along with the enslaved and freed Black Bedfordians interred at Bedford’s Old Burying Ground on Springs Road.

The group walked in silence from Bedford’s historic meeting house to Springs Road where they left a ribbon on the Black Slaves’ monument to commemorate Juneteenth.

Earth Day ~ Celebrating 50 Years on Sunday, April 19, 2020

With thanks to three of Bedford’s environmentally active organizations, including links to a pair of Sunday morning church services to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day

The first Earth Day 50 years ago was a revolutionary event in which 20 million people participated. This year it will be celebrated with the country doing shelter in place.  It can still be revolutionary. This is a moment when we can reflect on the kind of world we want to build.  We now see first-hand how interconnected we are. Just as a strong, united effort has been needed to address the coronavirus, so a united effort is needed to address climate change and create a healthier planet for everyone.  That is what Earth Day is about.