The Unitarian Universalist Church of Biddeford and Saco recently erected a Black Lives Matter banner on the exterior of its School Street building in Saco.

SACO — Since Friday, June 12, those driving along School Street in Saco may notice that a local church is showing its support of the national Black Lives Matter movement. On Sunday, June 7 the board of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saco & Biddeford voted to hang a banner from the exterior of its building stating Black Lives Matter. The sign was ready by Wednesday, June 10 and on Friday, June 12 it was erected onto the building.

“About five years ago, some of us very strongly supported putting up a Black Lives Matter sign,” church member Sonja Gerken said in a recent telephone interview. At that time, “some were reluctant,” she said.

But times have changed. In recent weeks, there have been protests across the country in the aftermath of the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after Minnesota police pinned him down, with one officer placing his knee on Floyd’s neck as Floyd complained he couldn’t breath.

This time around, when the board met Sunday “it was overwhelmingly yes” in favor of the banner, Gerken said. Board members felt, she said, “we need to walk our talk. … Everyone matters.” The hate in the country “is getting out of hand,” she said.

“The killing of George Floyd and the tremendous response by so many throughout the world seeking equality and justice, makes me believe the time is right for us to make this statement,” church member Mark Young said in an email. “It’s not anti-police; rather it’s anti-police brutality and reflects our belief in the inherent worth of all human beings. I would love to see our police post a Black Lives Matter sign!”

“This banner of support and solidarity in light of discrimination our black brothers and sisters continue to suffer is one way our voice can be added to the many others,” church member Randa Thomas said in an email. “It is one way our beliefs can be made visible. We regret that it has taken these latest deaths to call us to action as a congregation, but we are ready to let our actions show that we believe what that sign says!”

In addition to the banner, church members have begun peaceful protests at the Elm Street bridge at Water Street. The first took place 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 10.

“We had a great response from the community,” Gerken said. “Some saw us and came and joined us.”

“It was nice to see dark skinned people (driving by) so happy to see white people standing up for them,” she said.

Protesters were peaceful, wore masks and followed coronavirus social distancing restrictions, Gerken said.

Church members will continue to hold protests at 5 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Elm Street bridge for the foreseeable future, she said.

Church member Donna Beveridge said in an email she supported the church’s actions because, “I have a limited personal history of participating in vigils and protests, but I feel that at 77 years of age, it is time for me to take a stand. As is said, ‘If not now, then when?’ I hear white people in our community say, ‘All lives matter,’ and I believe they do. But in order for that to be true, we must make sure that ‘Black lives matter.’ Our Unitarian Universalist Church believes in the inherent dignity of all individuals. It is essential for our church to stand together now in support of our Black brothers and sisters. Our banner makes that stand visible to all who pass by.”

Church board President Allen Casad said the banner and the peaceful protests are very much in keeping with the Unitarian Universalist Church’s philosophy.

“The UU Church has a long history of supporting social justice issues in this country,” Casad said in an email. “I am very excited that the UUCSB has chosen to stand-up and speak out for Black lives at this important time. It is time for real and enduring change to occur. America must truly stand for meaningful equal justice for all.”



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