Support and resist: Woodstock religious leaders meet in election’s aftermath

Josh Bode, Sonja Tillberg MacLary, Jan Tarlin, and Father George (photo by Violet Snow)

Josh Bode, Sonja Tillberg MacLary, Jan Tarlin, and Father George (photo by Violet Snow)

Two days after the election, as supporters of president-elect Donald Trump were celebrating, while his opponents were emerging from their state of shock, the Woodstock Interfaith Council held its monthly meeting. The community’s religious leaders discussed how to formulate a spiritual approach to what they saw as trauma stirred up by the election, as the group plans its annual Thanksgiving service, to be held on Monday, November 21, 7 p.m., at the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Pastor Sonja Tillberg MacLary, who hosted the gathering at Christ’s Lutheran Church, said the group has been meeting for the 18 years that she has been pastor, and it was in existence even earlier. Originally a Christian council, the group has since been opened to include representatives of the two local Buddhist monasteries and the Woodstock synagogue.


MacLary opened the discussion by remarking, “Thanksgiving comes on the heels of the election. There’s been so much divisiveness over the past months, it’s wonderful that we can come together in diversity with thankfulness for our community, our freedoms, and the gifts we have here in Woodstock. We have a lot of healing to do.”

Father George, who heads St. John the Evangelist, Woodstock’s Roman Catholic church, commented on Trump’s acceptance speech of the previous day, calling it “positive. Now let’s see how words can be translated into action. He can be the healer — someone has to be, to bring people together.”

Reverend Josh Bode of the Woodstock Reformed Church said he saw a need to clarify Christian principles in the face of fundamentalist churches supporting extremist right-wing policies. “How can we pray for and support the new president, while resisting injustice, according to Christian teachings, as opposed to those that have so powerfully captured the Christian community in past generations? I’m concerned about the cultural captivity of the Christian church. I’m hoping we can get clear on how to both support and resist.”

Pastor Paul Smith, recently appointed to lead both the Shady and Overlook Methodist churches, said the broadness of his sect’s doctrine accommodates a wide range of views. “Even before the election, I witnessed visions of brokenness and despair over certain issues. I can say, ‘This is where our church officially stands on this issue, but as pastor, here is where I stand.’ It’s allowed for difficult conversations, but also has allowed me to be authentic to myself and reach out to the other side. People in my congregation have been saying, ‘We need you over for dinner right away — we need to grieve with you. Others say, ‘I know this has been a difficult time for you, and we’re hoping and praying we can have unity.’”

“It’s time for compassion for those who have been hurt by the divisive rhetoric of the campaign,” said MacLary. “Minorities, people who are of an immigrant background or look like they might be immigrants, people of other faith traditions, gays and lesbians — they are feeling genuine hurt and fear. For us to move forward as a country, our healing has to have compassion. There needs to be repentance for bad language. Think of how divided some Thanksgiving tables are going to be. St. Francis said, ‘Make me an instrument of peace. Seek not to be understood but to understand.’”

Jan Tarlin of Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, the Tibetan Buddhist monastery, said, “The thing most painful for me in the last 24 hours has been the flood of email and social media reports about the pain children and young adults are going through. Particularly children in the African-American community and children adopted from other countries who are afraid someone will come and rip them away from their parents and send them back where they came from. I have friends with daughters at Smith College, where the sound on campus yesterday was crying, sobbing.”

Tarlin said his compatriots are dedicating their practice to the individuals of the incoming government, praying that they might “experience their natural heart of compassion and wisdom. We’re also praying for and making plans to support those living in fear so they too can flourish and realize their Buddha nature, whatever they may call it — the true nature of any being with a mind.”

Bose spoke up again, commenting, “My background as a Christian sensitizes me to the mechanisms that create sacrificial victims, that says, ‘Whose victim stories are you going to honor — rural folks who are experiencing decline of their privilege over time?’ People tell victim stories all over the place. We have to resist the dualistic thinking that says you have choose between these and those innocent victims to side with. There’s truth about suffering on many sides.”

Tarlin agreed. “I talked about the fear and sadness of those who I am most closely connected to, but the result of the election was also an expression of fear and sadness on the part of people who wanted a new form of government.”

Pamela Murnan of the Christian Science church said, “We have to focus on things we have in common and try to come together on what we can agree upon. We have to do it with respect and love and prayer, keeping our minds lifted out of despair and hatred, because that negative energy goes out there. We have to keep thought above that.”

A discussion followed on how to distribute the donations traditionally collected at the Thanksgiving service. Tarlin suggested Kingston’s Muslim community, where fear is rampant, families are struggling to meet their needs, and the imam has a full-time job apart from his religious responsibilities. The group also discussed contributing to the Kingston LGTBQ center, the women’s shelter run by Family of Woodstock, and the local migrant workers’ organization.

The Thanksgiving service is expected to include council members who could not be present at the monthly meeting, such as Rabbi Jonathan Kligler of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation and Geoffrey Shugen Arnold of the Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper. St. Gregory’s Episcopal minister Matthew Wright is on vacation.

The public is invited to a Thanksgiving service led by the Woodstock Interfaith Council on Monday, November 21, at 7 p.m., at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, 85 Tinker Street, Woodstock.