First of all – THANK YOU so much for the birthday card, wishes and gift. I am grateful.
I was deeply touched by a story of redemption and forgiveness told by the ministers of Foothills Unitarian, and so I share it here:
Dear Members of the Foothills Community,
On Sunday we arrived at church to find one of the windows in the Religious Exploration building had been broken by a large rock. At that moment we had no indication as to what had happened or why, and many of us felt shaken by this act. Church staff quickly went to work cleaning up the glass, and the Fort Collins Police were called to investigate. Events like these are disconcerting, as they remind us of violence visited upon places of worships across the nation, and brings to the the forefront the truth of our vulnerability.
It raises questions: Were we targeted? Who would do something like this? Will it happen again? And often with acts of vandalism like this, we never find any resolution to these questions.
However, on Monday morning, a man came into the church office requesting a conversation with one of our ministers. During that conversation, he disclosed that he had broken the window on Saturday evening and wanted to apologize and attempt to make amends for the harm he has caused.
After spending this time in conversation and reflection, he wrote the following message, and asked us to share it with all of you:
Dear Members of Foothills Unitarian Church,
[On Saturday night] I broke the window to your church [….] and I want to offer every single member of the church my deepest heartfelt apology.
My actions were not motivated by malice, hate or anger towards your church community. The reality of the situation is much sadder than that. I am an alcoholic. Up until Saturday night, I was sober for almost two years. In recent months, however, I have been struggling. Saturday night, I came to a breaking point.
For a long time, I walked the path set out by the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I never thought of myself as a criminal, but here I am confessing to a crime. The ninth step of Alcoholics Anonymous tells me that I need to make amends wherever possible to those that I have wronged, regardless of the consequences that I may face. I have offered to pay for the window, and I am willing to do whatever else I can do to make this right. If that also involves legal action, so be it.
I have returned to Alcoholics Anonymous, I let the members of my fellowship know about my relapse, and I have made inquiries into outpatient treatment for my alcoholism.
I know that I cannot erase the fears that you may have felt when you saw the window. Perhaps you thought you were being targeted; perhaps you thought that you had angered someone in the community. I want you to know that this is not the case. My disease has brought me to a point where I have negatively impacted people I have never met – good people. I am ashamed, embarrassed and terrified. Please know that I apologize whole-heartedly for my actions.
As a community whose mission is to unleash courageous love, we were faced with a choice of what to do. Our community experienced real harm –financially and emotionally– because of this individual’s actions. We cannot simply ignore these harms and just let it go. And at the same time, our faith calls us to work to realize the vision of beloved community in all of our relationships, and to create that world where it is easier for each of us to choose the good, where second chances are offered, where harm can be healed, and for relationships that were once broken to be reconciled.
When we first saw the damage done to the window, many of us were afraid that this was an act by someone who was different from us – different in religious commitments, in opinions, in practice. But through our conversation with this man, we recognized that it was actually an act made by someone whose struggle and story is quite familiar. In him we recognize ourselves, our family members, our friends. All of us are touched, and some very personally, by substance abuse and mental illness. As a congregation, we are committed to being a part of the healing and restoration of this too-common and too-painful experience.
After our conversation, with these values in mind, we decided that the best path was a restorative one. We have decided to not press charges, especially if he was willing to apologize to the Foothills community, take responsibility for the harm caused, and to pay for the repair of the window. These terms have been agreed to, and we will continue to be in conversation with this individual to see if we can support their recovery.
This surprising ending to the series of events that started on Saturday, reminds us all that while we often believe we understand the story we are in – and our minds start to fill in all the details, launching us into worry and what if’s. Yet, the reality is that there are so many things that fill our world that we do not know – so many others’ stories that are playing out at the same time. We can only remain steadfast in our commitment to our values, and to our mission, and trust that ultimately, these values and this vision will bring about a new, and healing story for us all.
In faith, and in partnership,
Revs. Sean Neil-Barron and Gretchen Haley
P.S. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with alcohol or drug use, there are many resources in our community to support you and them. Your ministers are here to support you and your family member connect with resources that might be helpful, or support you as you walk towards recovery.
In Fort Collins, SummitStone Health Partners, provides Addiction Treatment and support as well as a 24/hour crisis line (970-494-4200) and Drop-In Center. https://summitstonehealth.org/
Additionally, Turning Point (970-221-0999, www.turningpnt.org) provides support for children and youth struggling with alcohol and drug-related issues, as well as significant mental and behavioral health issues.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency has curated resources for those struggling with dependency and their families, with links to local support services. https://www.ncadd.org/
I know that UU Church of Boulder is living into what our faith calls us to do: realize the vision of beloved community in all of our relationships, and to create that world where it is easier for each of us to choose the good, where second chances are offered, where harm can be healed, and for relationships that were once broken to be reconciled.
May it be so!