Symbolizing children killed in Gaza, hundreds of hearts from Bethlehem delivered to Congress by UCC volunteers

More than 500 olivewood hearts accompanied by a postcard, like the one pictured, were delivered to congressional offices.

Valentine’s Day found members of several Washington, D.C.-area United Church of Christ congregations participating in the delivery of over 500 olivewood hearts — each representing one beating heart of the nearly 12,000 Palestinian children killed in Gaza since Oct. 7.

These hearts were crafted by artisans in Bethlehem, Palestine, and were blessed in an ecumenical prayer service in Bethlehem in December. The hearts were accompanied by a letter signed by several groups — including the UCC, Global Ministries and Palestinian partners — urging Congress to “raise your voice for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. True peace can only be achieved through the pursuit of justice for all parties involved.”

The Rev. Michael Neuroth, director of the UCC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C., helped prepare for this delivery, and said it was an emotional undertaking.

“We printed off the names of the 12,000 children who have been killed. I know it isn’t complete, but as it is, it is 87 pages double-sided and single-spaced,” he said. “The list itself had a sacredness to it, and I watched as volunteers paged through the document, reading name after name, often overcome with emotion and the grief and horror of what it represents.

Maryn Goodson, left, of Westmoreland Congregational UCC in Bethesda, Md., and the Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, pastor of First Church UCC in Washington, D.C., write the names of children who have been killed in Gaza.

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the collective grief being experienced by these families,” he continued. “As people of faith, as Christians, we must continue to escalate our calls to bring an end to this violence, to the loss of so many innocent lives. We are one human family, one community. We must end this collective punishment and call for a permanent ceasefire and a lasting peace.” 

‘We must end this war’

The Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, senior minister of the First Church UCC in D.C., helped with the project.

“As I penned the names of children killed by the bombardment of Gaza on paper hearts to be delivered to members of Congress, I wondered about the quiet life behind each name,” she said. “What did their laughter sound like, whose hand did they reach for during the long nights of explosions and fear, how would their families grieve and remember them? Each life, carrying the spark of the divine; each child’s sacred worth demanding that their basic human needs be met, including the need for safety.

“We must end this war.”

Volunteers help prepare the hearts for delivery to Congress.

Emily Parker, a member of the Cleveland Park Congregational UCC, also in D.C., was a participant as well.

“I am grateful and humbled to have been able to personally deliver these beautiful hearts, made with love and grief, by our siblings in Palestine as well as the message to our elected leaders to stop participating in the slaughter of children,” Parker said.

A large portion of the delivering was done by representatives from Rock Spring Congregational UCC in Arlington, Va. Pictured standing together, from left, are Gail Burnaford, Kathy Hale and Rev. Laura Martin.

“This effort has been a collective effort with the UCC’s Palestinian partners through Global Ministries,” who commissioned these hearts, said Neuroth. “I heard from several volunteers that they witnessed the congressional staff receiving and holding the hearts gently and tenderly as they instinctively understood that each heart represented a child. It was a beautiful witness that I pray moved the hearts and minds of members of Congress.”

The accompanying letter asked members of Congress to keep these hearts nearby and to remember their purpose: “As you deliberate on matters related to Israel and Palestine, we ask you to remember these hearts, each symbolizing the life of a Palestinian or Israeli child.”

Group effort

Peter Makari, Global Ministries’ global relations minister for the Middle East and Europe, said it was an important group effort.

Peter Makari, left, Global Ministries’ global relations minister for the Middle East and Europe, prepares the symbolic hearts for delivery to Congress along with Rev. Mike Neuroth.

“Through our engagement with partners in Palestine, including the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem and Kairos Palestine, we were made aware of this effort to send hearts from Bethlehem to the U.S., and were ready to offer to participate in the delivery of the hearts — and the message with names of child victims — to elected officials in Washington, to humanize the consequences of the ongoing tragedy, enabled and supported by the U.S.,” Makari said.

On the same day, Ash Wednesday, Hendler-Voss, Parker and others from area UCC congregations participated in a public witness in front of the White House. The ecumenical gathering launched a weekly Lenten ceasefire campaign.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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