Called to be united

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 27, 2014

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.

— Psalm 133:1

By Susan Shinn

For the Salisbury Post

Some 375 worshippers, musicians, clergy, and representatives of local non-profit agencies and city and county government gathered Sunday evening for a Community Service of Unity at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Salisbury.

“The idea for this evening is very, very simple,” said the Rev. Rhodes Woolly, senior pastor of St. John’s. “We just want to lift up the spirit of unity, to rise above division and celebrate what unites us.”

Woolly praised members of the non-profit, arts and faith communities, as well as local government, for being on the front lines of building unity.

“Thank you for your tireless efforts,” he said.

Woolly also pointed out that the event comes on the heels of a successful free dental clinic held in the fall, spearheaded by Dr. Jim Dunkin of First Presbyterian Church and other downtown churches.

“What common purpose was found through that beautiful occasion,” Woolly said.

Sunday evening’s service was yet another beautiful occasion, and a show of unity among the downtown churches and the community they serve.

Phillip Burgess, choirmaster of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, led a 100-voice choir of members from downtown churches in several anthems, including “Look at the World,” by John Rutter.

“All our gifts we share and every blessing, all things come of thee,” they sang.

Light of Hope, a music ministry group from Catawba College, also performed several pieces.

Justin Dionne, artistic director of Lee Street Theatre, came to the mike after one selection.

“Can you guys clap for them?” said Dionne, who — to be fair — is used to applause during Lee Street productions. “I’ve been fighting that urge all night.”

Dionne said he was “honored and scared” to be one of the evening’s speakers. “My heart was really pushing me to say yes.”

Unity is one of his passions. He explained that unity leads to collaboration, working together to achieve a task and shared goals. Much collaboration, he said, goes on at Lee Street.

One of the favorite parts of his job, he said, is when folks gather to brainstorm, jotting words on a white board that morph into characters and stories.

But unity and collaboration, he said, are not without their challenges.

Still, he said, “This community is growing and changing and diversifying in ways I never thought I’d see when I was growing up here.”

Dionne challenged the congregation to work for unity. “We all must do our best to collaborate with people who are different from us. Go out and find some people to get together and fill the white board.”

In his sermon, the Rev. Dr. Sam Moore talked about the habit he’d developed of watching the late news before he goes to bed, no matter where he finds himself. Moore is the Uwharrie district superintendent for the United Methodist Church.

And no matter where he is, he said, the first 10 to 12 minutes of a newscast talk about what’s wrong with the world.

He’s thought about breaking that habit he said. “But I need to know how the gospel impacts popular culture. As a follower of Christ, these situations are breaking Jesus’ heart. They should be breaking all our hearts.”

It’s up to all followers, he said, to pass on the age-old message of the church: that God loves us and there’s nothing we can do to make him stop loving us. “We should be exploring ways we can serve.”

Moore said that more should be done to help children in the community — all of the children.

“We are doing very little to help close the gaps between the haves and have nots,” he said. “I am embarrassed when I think about what it’s gonna cost me to do the God thing, instead of thinking that God will be glorified, and people will be blessed. Jesus used the child to make his point. That’s where we need to begin to make a change.”

Children in society, he said, “are all our children. Life in this world is not about us. It is about serving God and serving others.”

Moore said he looked forward to the day when the first 10 to 12 minutes of the late newscast would be about collaboration and cooperation, “where people who love God and follow Jesus, and where the needs of the community are met.”

Following Moore’s sermon, the congregation sang “Lord, Be Glorified.” Kevin Agner on cello and Matthew Brown at the organ grounded Michelle Trivette’s soaring saxophone.

Dunkin then led a litany with the congregation, which was called a Commitment to Unity.

“Together, we are called to be united,” the congregation responded. “Together, we give thanks for one another. Together, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift. Together, we are called into fellowship. Together, we are called to be united.”

As Teresa Mitchell-Moore sang a rousing rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” members of non-profit agencies and local government came forward to pour pitchers of water into one enormous ceramic bowl.

Those who participated included Renee Bradshaw, Family Crisis Council; Tony Curran, Food for Thought; Kyna Grubb, Rowan Helping Ministries; Beth Moore, Prevent Child Abuse Rowan; John Barden, Boy Scouts; Mikell Reynolds, Girl Scouts; Krista Woolly, Community Care Clinic; Terrence Snyder, Knox Middle School principal; Paula Bohland, Downtown Salisbury, Inc.; as well as all five members of Salisbury City Council. Near the end of this ritual of unity, County Commissioner Jon Barber and Dr. Lynn Moody, superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, poured their pitchers of water in the bowl together.

The service seemed meaningful for all who attended.

Mayor Paul Woodson said he was proud that his entire council attended, and appreciated Barber’s presence as well.

“It was a very uplifting service,” Woodson said.

“Our community is so in need of unity,” said Dr. Bethany Sinnott, a St. Luke’s member who’s a retired Catawba College professor. “It was a beautiful idea for the churches to come together. I’m so glad I came. This community has so much talent. We need to use our minds and our hearts to work together.”

“It was wonderful,” said City Councilwoman Karen Alexander. “So many times, what separates people is fear of differences. I appreciated Justin’s remarks. If we all focused on working together, we could make a big difference.”

Susan Shinn is communications assistant for St. John’s Lutheran Church.