After hearing about the violence in Charlottesville, Va. that Saturday, the Rev. Joel Simpson of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church felt the community needed a prayer vigil to start the healing process.
The Rev. Alexis Coleman, associate pastor at Davidson United Methodist Church, responded with a resounding “yes,” when Simpson suggested a partnership between the two churches to make the event larger.
“We originally planned for the week after Charlottesville, but we decided to let tensions calm a little,” said Coleman. “We wanted to do something different. Not a protest or a rally, something to bring the community together to grieve, lament and recognize our responsibility,” she said.
More than a dozen clergy from different denominations in Davidson and Cornelius participated in the community prayer vigil at the Davidson Village Green on Aug. 23. Some led the group in prayer, others read scripture and some offered reflections on what has taken place and what needs to take place to heal, as a community and a nation.
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While speaking of attitudes right after the 9-11 attack, the Rev. Darrell Van Pelt, pastor at Davidson Presbyterian Church said, “The thing I will always remember, at that moment, there was no black or white. I think at that moment everyone was wondering if we were gonna survive.”
Speaking of the chance for a similar, diverse unity in the future, he said, “We need to pray that it doesn’t take something like another 9-11 to put down these issues we feel are so important.”
Let peace begin with me
The vigil also offered a path toward a solution, an opportunity for diversity.
“We can no longer travel the way we once did, things must change,” Simpson said.
Simpson, an associate pastor at Mt. Zion UMC in Cornelius, said his studies show 75 percent of white Americans have zero black friends that they could talk to about the recent violence and than 65 percent of black Americans have zero white friends that they could discuss the issues with either.
“As we enter into these difficult times, we think we are talking to each other, but we are not,” he said.
Simpson invited those in attendance to join in an effort to diversify the community by signing up for his next project. Providing your name, contact information, race, sex and age were required for the next step in healing.
Participants will be contacted in the coming weeks. They will be organized into small, intentionally diversified groups, given a time table for meetings and details on the commitment to learn about each other. They will meet, form relationships and friendships before moving to the next stage.
Dozens have signed up, and there’s still a chance to participate.
Once the foundation is set and friendships have been formed, the difficult questions will be asked. “Are we willing to take the steps necessary? How much can you sweat when you ask a question? How much can you be afraid,” asked Simpson.
In urging people to sign up and get involved, he said, “How far are you willing to go to make a change? To follow a new path? Because moving together requires that we actually move together.”
Path of reconciliation
Cameron Moore, director of contemporary worship at Davidson United Methodist Church, led the crowd in singing “Amazing Grace” as the clergy formed six stations. Each officiant placed the mark of Tau — a cross draw on the back of the hand, in ash, that represents a sign of humility toward God, wishing to live in peace, mutual forgiveness and reconciliation with your neighbors —on those who wished as they received their candles for the final part of the service.
The attendees continued to sing while lighting their candles in the enveloping darkness. The Rev. Ernest Jeffries, pastor at Gethsemane Baptist Church, gave the final charge and closing prayer before the people blew out their candles and headed for home.
“I would like to see us be a model for how reconciliation can work,” Coleman said, “not only for our community but for our world.”
Marty Price is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
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If you would like to be part of a small group, email your information to email@example.com
These clergy participated in the vigil, in order of appearance:
The Rev. Joel Simpson, associate pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Cornelius, welcomed the crowd and later explained the program.
Jan Blodgett, from Davidson Friends Meeting, read scripture: I Kings 8:37-40.
The Rev. Greg McIntyre, rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, offered prayer.
The Rev. Sarah Belles, associate pastor at Davidson United Methodist Church read scripture: Jeremiah 31:15.
The Rev. Tony Moreau, associate pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, offered a prayer for those who are killed and injured by acts of violence/racism.
The Rev. Rebecca Yarbrough, deacon at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, offered a prayer for those who commit acts of violence/racism against others.
The Rev. David Judge, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Cornelius, read scripture: Psalm 79:5-9.
The Rev. Michael Flake, lead pastor at Lake Forest Church-Davidson, offered a prayer of lament with confession.
The Rev. Alexis Coleman, associate pastor, Davidson United Methodist Church, explained the mark of the Tau — a visible act of lament.
Rabbi Michael Shields, from the Temple Kol Tikvah, reflected on the problems and possible solutions.
The Rev. Susan Heafner-Heun, pastor from the Inclusion Community, reflected on problems and possible solutions.
The Rev. Darrell Van Pelt, pastor at Davidson Presbyterian Church, reflected on problems and possible solutions.
The Rev. Lib McGregor Simmons, senior pastor, Davidson College Presbyterian Church, read scripture: Isaiah 43:18-19.
The Rev. Joel Simpson explained candle lighting and small group signups.
The Rev. Ernest Jeffries, pastor at Gethsemane Baptist Church, gave the final charge and closing prayer.
Cameron Moore, the director of contemporary worship at Davidson United Methodist Church, provided music throughout the service.
Rachel Bernard, director of Compassion Ministries at Grace Covenant Church, also helped in marking the hands of those in attendance.
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