As residents of one of America’s fastest growing cities, we in Charlotte are practiced at saying hello. But goodbye – we’re not so used to that.
I mention this because it’s time to bid farewell to Maria Hanlin.
Since 2005, she’s been the big-hearted leader of Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith group of about 100 congregations (there were 50 when she took the job) that’s dedicated to social justice and to building relationships among Christians, Jews, Muslims and others.
In just a few days, Hanlin will be moving up the road to become the new executive director/CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro. She already has an apartment there and will be joined by husband Tim, a banker, after they sell their home here.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Hanlin is grabbing yet another opportunity to help those in need. Her doctorate is in Ministry with the Poor. And when she arrived in Charlotte 18 years ago to be associate pastor at Matthews United Methodist, she talked the megachurch into tithing 10 percent of its capital campaign to buy lots and build Habitat homes.
So, how to say goodbye?
I could spotlight her accomplishments at “MeckMin”: She’s helped fight bullying in the schools, got politicians and young people to walk in the footsteps of the city’s poor, arranged for black and white preachers to swap pulpits, recruited all-clergy work crews to build two Habitat houses – and much more.
Or I could go the biography route: Now 54, Hanlin grew up in Montgomery, Ala., where her white Methodist parents backed the efforts of a young black Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. and taught that segregation is a sin.
But in the few lines I have left, let’s let Hanlin say goodbye to us. Here are her parting words – and challenges to Charlotte:
-- “I so hope that people of (different) faiths will find common causes and join hands on issues our Scriptures command us to care about: Equitable education for every child, homelessness, poverty, affordable housing, the environment.”
-- “And if I was to stay, I hope I would have the courage to help our community look at the racial injustice of our prison system.” (She recommends “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.)
-- “If we dare to dismiss or demonize a group because they are Muslim or they are immigrants or they are gay, we’re going against the God that created those people and called them good.”
-- In the face of Charlotte’s growing diversity, “we cannot live in fear – that is not what people of faith do. So the question becomes: Do we build bigger walls or do we build bridges?”
-- Tim Funk