December 2017 Interfaith Alliance Newsletter


“On A Mission to Alleviate Poverty in the Portland Region”


The Interfaith Alliance newsletter is produced by the Poverty Awareness & Communication Action Team.     To contact:  Email


During the month of December, we often awaken to frost on our windows and icicles dripping from the eaves.  We bundle up against the cold.   Darkness shortens our days.  Rich and poor alike enjoy a warm fire and a hot cup of cider.  We draw together, taking comfort from each other, which is probably the reason winter holidays came about in the first place.

Our pagan ancestors worshipped the sun, and in mid-winter on December 25 celebrated Deus Sol Invictus.    In 350 AD, Pope Julius I, usurped this date, proclaiming December 25, the official celebration day for the birth of Jesus Christ (Christmas).      Although Christmas is sacred to  Christians,  it has become a secular holiday both at home and  to many around the world.  

In Argentina, they decorate the boots of Father Christmas with red and white flowers, hold huge feasts, exchange gifts at midnight, and set off fireworks. In the Marshall Islands they hold song and dance competitions, enjoy feasts and have piñatas   containing little presents for the children. In Iceland, they celebrate the Christmas Book Flood.  On Christmas Eve they exchange books and spend the rest of the night reading them and eating chocolate.

In the USA, we are consumed with holiday bazaars, tree lighting, TV specials, Santa Claus photos, decorating the house, baking cookies, preparing for the feast, and, shopping for toys and holiday duds for the “kiddies” and ourselves.   The gods of the marketplace set our Christmas priorities. So what if we go into debt, and the toy breaks two days after Christmas. As the song says, “Christmas is the happiest season of all!”  If going broke is the price we must pay, so be it.

Unfortunately, there are some of us  already so broke we can’t  pay.…. One year about a week before Christmas I was working in the Northeast Emergency Food Bank & Clothing Center.  After picking up his groceries, a man came into the Clothing Center where I sat behind a desk  He asked if we had any clothes for boys aged 7 and 9.  I showed him where they were located.  He spotted two jackets and then selected some jeans, shirts, and sweaters.  Eyeing a pile of socks,  he looked at me questioningly.  “Help yourself”, I said.

“I don’t suppose you have any toys?” he asked.  When people making donations to the Clothing Center cleared out their closets and cupboards, they occasionally threw in a few toys.  I pointed him to a large box.  He found a soccer ball, a Monopoly game that still had most its parts and a couple of books.     As he gave me his items to be counted and bagged, he said “Lady, you have made my kids’ Christmas! In the food pantry, I got a chicken and everything for our dinner and now there will be presents, too. “  He paused.  “They gave me one of the left-over trees.  I don’t suppose you’ve got ornaments?” he laughed.  As a matter of fact we did. I pulled out a box of shiny balls from under a table.  He took my hand, and said, “Thank you!” a tear welling in his eye.  I found tears in my eyes too.  In that moment, on a cold, rainy day, in the basement of a church, among people too poor for the marketplace, a spirit of joy claimed our hearts. Because of the generosity of others, who were in fact strangers to the man and his two sons,  Christmas did become “the happiest season of all.”  B. Gregg.



During the month of  December,   sacred celebrations are  being held among  many Interfaith Alliance on Poverty congregations who are members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist faiths.  .


Photo credits: Flash90

In 2017,  Hannukkah begins at sunset on Tuesday DECEMBER 12 and ends at sundown on Wednesday, DECEMBER 20.  It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp.  The miracle of Hanukah is that after the battle, only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to last one day = yet it had lasted through 8 days of battle.

Hanukkah is celebrated in Jewish homes  with lighting of candles, reciting prayers, and eating special foods.   Some people also sing Hanukkah songs or exchange gifts after lighting the menorah, which is also called a hanukkiah.


Christmas service in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Andi Graf, courtesy of Pixabay

“Fear not for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior; which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:11-12

On Friday, DECEMBER 25, 2017,   the world’s 2 billion Christians will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe was sent by God   to bring salvation to mankind.   Many Orthodox Christians in the U.S. refer to the holiday as the Nativity.

Manger scenes are set up in churches and private homes, candles are lit and the story of the “Baby Jesus” is told, the babe born in a stable, beneath a bright star, to Mary and Joseph, surrounded by angels, shepherds, and sheep, to the accompaniment of heavenly choirs.  –

Christians celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day  by attending worship services.  Bells ring, choirs sing, families gather around Christmas tree and dinner tables,  baskets are given to the poor, and gifts are exchanged



Eid Milad ul-Nabi celebrations   commemorate the birth of the prophet, Mohammed, in  570 AD. This year the prophet’s birthday  will be celebrated on DECEMBER lst.  It is observed on the 12th or 17th day of Rabi' al-awwal Islamic month.

Having lost his parents at a young age, Muhammed was raised by his uncle, who trained him to become a successful merchant.   At the age of 40, after an encounter with an angel,  Muhammad began hearing messages he understood to be from God. He began preaching these words, which are recorded in the Quran.   Eventually, he and his followers numbering around ten thousand. took control of Mecca. When Muhammad died in 632, he had united Arabia into a single Muslim political/religious body, but they soon divided into two religious campsThe Sunni Muslims (about 80% of Islam)  understood Muhammed had wished his friend and father-in law to be the first caliph and chose him to replace The Prophet.    Since Muhammad’s own sons had pre-deceased him,  the Shia Muslims (about 10% of Islam) believed that Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, should have  been selected. Thus, the rivalry began.   Although all Muslims agree on the importance of teaching the Quran,  the Sunni are typically seen as putting more emphasis on the power of God and his determination of human fate. They are understood to be more inclusive in their definition of what it means to be a Muslim.

To celebrate The Prophet’s birth, Muslims  hold open-air celebrations or parades, carrying green banners.  Men and boys wear green, while girls wear pink and white.   A communal meal is held or birthday cake distributed at the end of the celebrations. Food is often shared with non-Muslims.


 On DECEMBER 8th, Buddhists celebrate BODHI DAY, commemorating the day on which Siddhartha Gautama  experienced enlightenment.  Born in Northern India,  Siddhartha  left a life of ease within a wealthy family to devote years exploring extreme ascetic practices to better understand suffering.  Finally he resolved to sit beneath the Bodhi tree, until truth came to him. The next day, as  the morning star  rose, Siddhartha  experienced the  enlightenment  he had sought,  thereafter becoming known as Buddha, the “Awakened One.”   This one defining moment   became the central foundation upon which Buddhism has been built for the last 2,500 years.

It is a day on which followers renew their dedication to Buddhism; reaffirm themselves to enlightenment, compassion, and kindness to other living creatures; and understand the relevance of their religion as it applies to the modern world.


 Alliance Congregations Show They Care About Affordable Housing for Our Cully Neighbors! by Marilyn Mauch, Advocacy Action Team

Nine congregations in the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty, gathered 482 signatures on post cards addressed to Mayor Wheeler, asking his urgent help in keeping Portland’s manufactured home parks available as affordable housing. Specifically, we requested the creation of a new “overlay” zoning designation for Portland’s 62 manufactured home parks. The new zoning designation will make it more difficult for a landlord to close down a park in order to erect more expensive housing.

We have five manufactured home parks in the Cully neighborhood and they are crucial housing for the most vulnerable among us. Without this housing, the residents would have to relocate to East Portland, Salem or Vancouver, far from the community that most have lived in for many years, in many cases all of their lives. Some of the residents are disabled vets, the physically challenged, and the elderly --for them, the next stop would likely be homelessness.

Cully residents are meeting with the Living Cully community organization team to create what they see as an effective way to engage the Mayor’s Office regarding the overlay zoning change. A “meeting” or other opportunity with the Mayor would include presentation of the postcards signed by the Interfaith Alliance along with all the post card signatures being gathered by Cully residents. We’ll keep you posted!


Speaking at the November  meeting  of the Interfaith Alliance, held at Genesis Community Church, Felicia Tripp, Deputy Director of  the Portland Housing Center       indicated that home ownership is the key out of generational poverty.  She explained that once you own your home,  no longer are you at the mercy of landlords, who can raise your rents. You are able to establish credit, build equity,  and are able stabilize your life and that of your children.

First step to home ownership involves learning what is required to make that possible.    The Portland Housing Center offers educational opportunities teaching how to negotiate the real estate market,  geared to the cultural needs  of the applicants (African, Latino, , etc.)  helping them “to right the wrongs” of the past  For instance,  for many years young black people were allowed to buy cars, but   were “red-lighted” by realtors and allowed to consider properties only in specified locations.  In 1991, the Portland Urban Renewal brought change, opening doors to homes in new areas, but in the process destroying the neighborhoods which had been their communities.

PHC works  with  organizations within Multnomah, Washington,  and Clackamas Counties in Oregon and Clark County, Washington They have been successful in assisting more than 7,000 families become successful homeowners.

Jackie Butts, Home Ownership Program Manager, explained the process.  She indicated that an income floor of $30,000 to $42,000 is necessary for purchasing a home in the $200,000 range, adequate for purchase of a condominium in Portland or a smaller home in outlying areas. PHC assists home buyers provide  down payments options and financing.  They will “walk  beside the buyer”,  but stressed that it is the home buyer who is responsible for taking the initiative.



As an early advocate for fair housing and employment, the Portland Urban League was instrumental in helping to shape he City of Portland we know today.  Their mission is to empower African Americans and other Oregoians to achieve equality in education, employment, and economic security.  The League carries out its mission at the local, state, and national levels through direct services, advocacy, research, policy analysis, community education and mobilization, coalitions and collaborations and communications.

Speaking at the November Interfaith Alliance meeting were Danetta Monk, Housing Program Manager, Ruthie Carver, Community Health Worker and Outreach & Engagement Specialist, and Cayalaya Sand, Housing Specialist and Community Health Worker


Housing - The Portland Urban League has trained, experienced housing counselors and support staff to provide a wide range of homeownership services in both one-to-one and group settings.  Services include:

  • One-to-one foreclosure prevention counseling
  • Pre-purchase one-to-one homebuyer counseling
  • Pre-purchase and post-purchase group homebuyer education
  • Financial education
  • Reverse, or Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) assistance
  • Home maintenance
  • Rental housing assistance
  • Homeless and Homeownership services .

 Dr. Bethel,  Senior Pastor at Marantha Church and President of the Albina Ministerial Alliance shared his perspectives as a pastor and civil rights activist over the past 60 years.  His stated goal has been to bring people together to promote education, health, housing,  community, and justice.



 Beth Neel, Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church  will host the December Interfaith Alliance Meeting, to be held at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1624 NE Halsey, on Thursday, December 7, at 12:00 PM.

Beth Neel was ordained to the ministry in 1993, and was called to Westminster in 2011 to serve as co-pastor with her husband Gregg. We are told that “Beth knows her way around a committee meeting, potluck, and energetic Bible study.  When not at church, she enjoys reading books that might not have anything to do with faith, walking in rain or sun, trying to comb the dog, and having opportunities for hilarity with family.”

Guest speaker will be Mary Li, Director of the Multnomah County Idea Lab whose motto is  BUILD SMALL – LIVE LARGE.  The Multnomah Idea Lab (MIL), housed within the Multnomah County Department of County Human Services (DCHS),   tests new policies and innovations that help people and communities thrive.  Partnering with the national Family Independence Initiative (FII) and the Department of Human Services (DHS), MIL works to establish peer groups for families who have recently left the Temporary Assistance to  Needy Families (TANF) program.  The FII model engages families to share resources, provide support to one another, act as role models, and set their own goals.

GOOD BOOK READ - “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich


New York Times writer, Barbaraa Ehrenreich, traveled across the country working   at minimum wage jobs to learn first hand what it takes to survive with limited resources,  now revealed in her book, “Nickel and Dimed.”

''There are no secret economies that nourish the poor,'' Ehrenreich writes. ''On the contrary there are a host of special costs. If you can't put up the two months' rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week. If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can't save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved at a convenience store.' Without health insurance you risk a small cut becoming infected because you can afford neither a visit to the doctor nor antibiotics.

''Most civilized nations,'' Ehrenreich writes, ''compensate for the inadequacy of wages by providing relatively generous public services such as health insurance, free or subsidized child care, subsidized housing and effective public transportation. So what should we think about the fact that in America we are sending the poor out to make it on their own on little more than a quarter of a living wage?    Shame,” Ehrenreich suggests, “might be an appropriate response.”