What happens when a Methodist pastor, an Interfaith Minister, and an Episcopalian Quaker Contemplative (yes, there really is such a thing!) come together to ponder a witness for peace in the wake of the horrific, tragic, racially-motivated hate crime where nine people were killed in an attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in South Carolina; such a heinous act of terror in a place of worship?
What happens is, a Community Peace Gathering is born.
It was intended as an organically evolving memorial fellowship open to everyone, of all faiths (or none), anyone who would like to attend. So, on 6-21-15, a Community Peace Gathering was held at the Harrisville United Methodist Church in Harrisville, Michigan.
The Community Peace Gathering went solemnly, joyfully, sadly, hopefully, tearfully, reverently, peacefully, and beautifully.
It started in the church sanctuary with a moving memorial address from the Rever- end Mary Soderholm, who had the privilege of visiting the historic AME church in South Carolina some years ago. Then, Rev Meg Nisbet and I played our guitars and led the group in song (We Shall Overcome, Let There Be Peace on Earth.)
At the sanctuary altar, 11 candles were lit from the “Christ Candle”, as the names of the slain, and the survivor, and the shooter, were read aloud by Reverend Mary.
After the ceremony, the group moved out- side to where Meg and I had set up yet an- other memorial setting for the Peace Dove release.
Located on the shady church lawn, a small round table covered with a white linen cloth held 10 candles in tall glass con- tainers. The candles were placed in a circle. On each of the candles, a pic- ture was taped of the dear saint/martyr (as I feel about them) who had been slain, along with a brief bio, with yet one more candle included for the then unknown survivor of the shootings. In the very middle of that circle of candles was set one more candle, and written on that center candle were the words PEACE, MERCY, FORGIVE- NESS – and taped to that candle was a picture of the gunman who had madly murdered so many innocents’.
Then, the 11 people who had volunteered to individually handle/loft a Peace Dove were directed to collect their white dove and then walk around the memorial table and to LOOK at the faces, ponder their deaths, grapple with the crime, and FEEL the enormity of it, and then take their place in line.
As a peace minister, I addressed the group then, that in our gathering together we were actively taking part in the process of peace by creating a memorial in peace. In doing so, it becomes a “peace story” of their own, so that when they share the story with their families, friends, and community in the future, it be- comes for all time a link in the chain of good- ness where hate simply can not prevail. This then becomes an important imprint on the minds and hearts of everyone with whom they share the story of the experience with, which then sets the example for higher conduct in the model of love which Christ so clearly ex- emplified for us in His life, and by His death. In that moment, in what they were doing, what all of us were doing gathered together there, they made themselves ACTIVE examples of peace and goodness which children especially, so desperately need to see demon- strated in these turbulent times that we are living in.
The miles between ourselves and South Carolina do not matter. Just because about 1,000 miles separates us, we are, all of us, together in God’s hands.
Then, as the Reverend Mary read the names, each handler lofted their dove in memorial to the name being read. I was supposed to sing Amazing Grace during the lofting of the Peace Doves, but I found myself unable to do so – because I was weeping. In my surrender, I had to allow the Holy Spirit to enrapture the moment, and the uplifting melody of peace prayers was gently whispered on the wings of the white doves as they soared gracefully up to the cotton clouded blue skies of hope. It was breath taking.
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless mid- night of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that un- armed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
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