R. Vincent Lavieri / by Michael Falco

Who is R. Vincent Lavieri?

Vince Lavieri grew up on the virtually all white Northwest side of Chicago, Illinois, in a neighborhood of 1st, 2nd, and some 3rd generation European Americans. Vince attended the Chicago Public School system (Lane Tech), then college and seminary in Chicago, then moved to Michigan where he has since resided. Vince has been an ordained minister for over 41 years, originally in the Lutheran Church in America and now the United Church of Christ. In the first part of the current decade, Vince worked for a few years in Northwest Ohio where he was stunned and saddened to see the same overt racism that he witnessed in Chicago in the 60s. Vince has served as a pastor, is a hospital chaplain, works part time in retail, and continues as a peace, justice, and equity advocate within the church, the community, and the political realms.  

Excerpt from interview with R. Vincent Lavieri by Whitney Dow, 2017

I had kids in my confirmation class who came in one day, week, telling me that Obama is Muslim. And of course, Muslim was a code word for being an enemy, being black, or just another dog whistle out there. And I said, “No, he’s not. I mean, we’re United Church of Christ. President Obama was a member of U.C.C. Congregation in Chicago.” I said, “He’s U.C.C. just like we are.” “No, he’s Muslim.” “Well, how do you know he’s Muslim?” “Because at my grandpa’s house, that’s what they said on TV.” So, the following week, I played a DVD of the U.C.C. General Synod in 2007, and then Senator Obama spoke at that, as a member of a U.C.C. congregation. And so, that—when I showed the DVD of the highlights of that general synod, of course, there were some good clips of Obama speaking there, who said some very good things. And the kids were astounded. “What’s he doing at a U.C.C. thing?” I said, “Because he’s U.C.C. He’s Christian like we are.” “No!” They couldn’t accept it. But they come back the following week, and these kids tell me they’d figured it out. Obama was one of those “U.C.C. Muslims.” I did not know the U.C.C. had Muslims. But that was their way they rationalized it.

So, I thought I’m going to show this to the church council, that same DVD. The same shock. “Why is Obama at a U.C.C. meeting?” “Because he’s U.C.C. like we are.” “No, he’s not.” That inability—recognize reality, I mean, we’re not talking interpretations here. We’re talking straight-up facts. But boy, there are people—and I left that congregation—was serving a senior citizen community, and there are people that I dearly loved who would say the most racist things. And it was heartbreaking. And you can’t get in a fight with everybody you serve. I mean, how do you lift consciousness? How do you deal with these things? And there were things that I would say that—and Sundays in the sermons—the Sunday after Dylann Roof killed the nine parishioners in Charleston. There’s no way in the world I’m not going to deal with that. And people seemed to be okay with that. And I don’t know whether they didn’t always hear what I was saying, that it had come across okay because I was passionate about it? I think some people liked that I was passionate about it, and they didn’t necessarily get what I was saying. Never changed anything. Nobody ever had a conversion experience. But I couldn’t deal with the—all the racism that was present there. And I came back to Michigan for many reasons, but one of them was to—and I came to Kalamazoo, because I knew it was a progressive community where there were going to be people who I would feel comfortable with after living—after working in an area for six, seven years where I wasn’t comfortable at all with the attitudes of most of the people.

Interview Transcript

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