December 2017 Newsletter


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 ADThis 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 camps.  The 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.



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.



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.”




By Bonnie Gregg | Newsletter | No Comments


“I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.”
― Anne Frank

As we gather together this Thanksgiving, Anne Frank’s words challenge us to look beyond the darkness of our day, its violence, poverty and sorrow, to see the bright beauty of God’s glory that is within and surrounds us, and in that vision  be truly thankful.  B. Gregg



Experts agree that EDUCATION is the most effective way to lift people up and out of generational poverty. This is why our Portland Community College system is such a critical resource in the fight against poverty in our Metropolitan area. It provides accessible, affordable and confidence-building education and training to a population that needs it most.  And this is why–even if you are suffering from “voter fatigue” or think that single issue election doesn’t matter–you need to cast your ballot.

If passed, the PCC Bond Measure would authorize $185 million in bonds over a 16-year period, money that would enable:

  • (1)modernization of the college’s workforce training center in Northeast Portland;
  • (2) construction of a Child Development Center on the Rock Creek Campus;
  • (3) renovation of the  Health Technology Center on the Sylvania campus;
  • (4) modernization of technology and equipment;
  • (5) creation of additional training spaces for health care professions programs.

These effects are in addition to basic maintenance, extended life, and the “greening” of PCC facilities and processes. Because this is a sustaining bond measure rather than an entirely new spending authorization, it is not expected to increase the tax burden on Portland homeowners.

In the current Portland economy, many high-paying, family-sustaining jobs remain unfilled for lack of qualified candidates. PCC is our most obvious resource to strike a blow against poverty by bridging this gap, but it needs more resources, more program capacity, and more efficiency in its training. Meanwhile, a wide variety of non-profits are working hard to provide poverty-entrapped youth and adults with the awareness, self-confidence, and sustaining support to go after these opportunities. But all of these programs depend on a vital and expanding community college system.

PCC tuition costs roughly half that of a state university (one-tenth that of a private college), not to mention convenience and lower cost living expenses. Offering degrees and certificates in more than 100 areas of study, PCC ranks #1 among all Oregon higher education institutions in terms of graduates’ earnings compared to tuition costs (2017 Portland Business Journal).

According to PCC sources, every dollar invested in the PCC system returns $12.50 to Oregon’s economy in added state revenue and social savings (e.g. medical, elfare, unemployment payments). Our community not only needs this resource, but it turns out to be a great investment of taxpayer dollars.

The simplest yet most important action that Interfaith Alliance members can take against Poverty is to VOTE for measures and candidates that are the most likely to yield positive results. Keep that in mind as November 7 approaches!!!



Source:   Oregon Live, Jessica Floum,   October 11, 2017

The Portland City Council approved spending guidelines  for the $258 million to focus on people of color, families with children, and the homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  Dan Saltzman proposed  and the City Council  approved adding kids aging out of the foster system.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “The time for action is clearly upon us,  Portland families need safe accessible and quality housing and I believe this strategic framework provides us a direction for accomplishing that.”

1,300 affordable housing opportunities are required by the bond to accommodate those who make 60%  or less than the area median income,  and 600 units must be  available to those who make 30% or less,   In addition, 300 of Portland’s lowest income earners will be provided access to medical, mental health, addiction, and other social services.



You are invited to join the work being planned by the Interfaith Alliance at their next meeting being held  at Genesis Community Fellowship, 5425 NE 27th Avenue.

 The meeting will be hosted by Genesis Pastor Donald Frazier.    Ordained in 1983,   Pastor Frazier received  his Masters in Specialized Ministry in 2004 from Western Seminary.   The first few years of his ministry Pastor Frazier was bi-vocational, working as a manager at the State of Oregon Children Services Division.  In that role, he  developed culturally sensitive training for employees to insure that culturally competent programs were developed for ethnic clients. He states that his “ twelve years with CSD deeply burdened his heart for ministry to young people, family, and racial reconciliation.”

He has also been a leader with Promise Keepers   while pastoring at Mt. Sinai and   began the Bridge Ministries Program, designed as an outreach program aimed at reaching gang affected youth and their families. High risk and at-risk youth were referred to the program by the State of Oregon, Juvenile court, local high schools, and the community.  In addition to working with the youth, his work included a component of racial reconciliation to promote cross-racial understanding within churches. These experiences eventually led to his present position as the founder and Senior Pastor of Genesis Community Fellowship, a relevant, non-traditional, multi-cultural church in Northeast Portland.

Pastor Frazier has invited Dr. T Allen Bethel to join us the meeting.  Dr. Bethel has been Senior Pastor at Maranatha Church for fifteen years,  and also serves on the faculty of North Portland Bible College and Warner Pacific College. Dr. Bethel is  president of the board for Albina Ministerial Alliance, a group of spiritual leaders who speak out on issues of police accountability.


The Portland Housing Center   was formed 23 years ago in  partnership with the City of Portland and local banks to assist first-time home buyers in obtaining mortgages.  It has since helped more than 7,000 families become homeowners.



Members of the Interfaith Alliance are joining with Living Cully, St. Charles Church and a collaboration of non-profit organizations to establish a new zoning overlay designation to protect low-income housing for the residents of 62 mobile home parks in Portland.  The Cully neighborhood alone has five mobile home parks at risk     The new zoning law would make it more difficult for owners to shut down parks to allow construction of housing too expensive for mobile park residents.

City Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz are already on board in support of the new zoning designation, and efforts are underway to persuade May Ted Wheeler to add his support as well.

Postcards have been prepared for individual citizen’s signature requesting the mayor to approve the new zoning designation.  The cards are being distributed among Interfaith Alliance faith-based communities and non-profit organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Verde, ANAYA, and Hacienda.     The postcards will not be mailed, but will be  hand delivered to city hall on November 13.



Come at 5:00 pm and enjoy music and enchiladas made by Rigler School families.The program begins at 6:00 pm and includes a skit dramatizing the reactions of the 18 families of the Normandy Apartments and their 26 Rigler school children when they were informed by landlords that their rents were being raised by 100%!

To avoid having the school children’s learning and living circumstances disrupted, Living Cully, an anti-poverty advocacy group located in the Cully neighborhood stepped forward to help the families find nearby housing.    Multnomah County has allocated $48,000 to cover the rent increases that have threatened displacement of the schoolchildren and their families.  City officials are also being invited.



Westminster Presbyterian Church will host the December 10 Interfaith Alliance Monthly Meeting.  Featured speaker will be Mary Li, Director of the Multnomah Idea Lab.



On November 11, 2017, we commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of those who have committed their lives in defense of our country and the values of democracy.  Again,  Canadian Lt. Colonel, John McCrae’s words inspire us.

IN FLANDERS’ FIELDS  ….. the poppies blow between the crosses, row on row, that mark our place; and in the sky the larks, still bravely singing fly, scarce heard amid the guns below.  We are the Dead.  Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.  Take up our quarrel with the foe.  To you from falling hands we throw the torch, be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep,   though poppies grow, in Flanders fields.

In 2017, our fallen warriors have been transported from battlefields in Afghanistan, Niger, Iraq, etc.,  to    cemeteries across the U.S.A.     Therefore, we, too, must keep the faith, carrying high the torch now passed to us, honoring those who have given their lives so that we and the rest of the world may know the blessings of liberty. B. Gregg

Tom Hering