Written by Connie Larkman
If rainbow-splashed scarves blowing in the California breeze on a hot summer day don't raise a few eyebrows and generate some dialogue, the Rev. Marja Coons-Torn doesn't know what will.
In a colorful, symbolic move to stem the tide of violence –– most notably, the recent wave of bullying –– Coons-Torn has created the UCC Scarf Project with a goal of crafting 3,000 scarves in time for the United Church of Christ's General Synod 29 next July in Long Beach, Calif.
"The project has spread like wildfire," said Coons-Torn. "It truly has taken on a life of its own. I know of men and women in at least a half-dozen conferences that are already hard at work."
One church off and running with the project is St. John's UCC in Mifflinburg, Pa., where the Rev. Susan Gabbard has a message for those who are bullied: You do not deserve it.
"There are some people who are just so full of hate and insecurities that they look for other people to pick on to make themselves feel better," said the Rev. Susan Gabbard, church pastor. "It's not even about you."
Volunteers have started to knit, crochet and weave their way to creations 4 to 6 inches wide and 60 inches long, says Coons-Torn.
"We learned about the use of scarves by other denominations who were raising awareness about other issues," she said. "The scarves are a bright and visible symbol of the commitment we're asking of people."
Here's the hook:
Scarves of varying patterns –– each sporting rainbow colors –– are being made to be given to Synod attendees who pledge to commit to acting against violence. "It could be talking with your school superintendent about bullying, volunteering at a women's shelter or writing to your senators," said Coons-Torn of the advocacy possibilities.
"So when someone walks up to you at General Synod and asks you about your scarf, you offer to give it to them if they will agree to take an action against violence," she said. "Then you can return to the display hall and pick out a new scarf."
Andy Lang, executive director of the UCC's Coalition for LGBT Concerns in Cleveland, expressed deep gratitude to Coons-Torn and scarf-makers nationwide "who've taken the initiative to conceive and launch this project."
"General Synod in Long Beach will be a seascape of rainbow colors, and an opportunity to renew our commitment to protect every youth whose life and health are endangered by bullying," said Lang.
While skeins of yarn transform into thousands of scarves, Coons-Torn is also optimistic that the act of compassion will turn into help for victims of violence –– including vulnerable LGBT teenagers who increasingly experience teasing, taunting and harassment.
The project is being launched with the biennial meeting of the UCC in mind, but Coons-Torn has a suggestion for anyone who comes upon someone else creating a scarf-work-in-progress. "When you see someone knitting a very colorful scarf in public, you might just want to walk up to them and say, 'Are you part of the UCC Scarf Project?'"
Knitters, crocheters and weavers should send their scarves to:
The Scarf Project
c/o UCC Southern California Nevada Conference
2401 N. Lake Avenue
Altadena, CA 91001-2418
Learn more about the Scarf Project on Facebook.