‘We have to do something’
Sunday night we gathered around the Bell Tower, a landmark for our community. As the Rev. Timothy Bates said as we began, I called him Friday saying, “Timothy, we have to do something!” Once I had his enthusiastic agreement the work began. We both agreed to call our sisters and brothers to come together for a Community Prayer Vigil. The Salisbury Post was helpful in letting the community know. As Timothy and I looked around Sunday night, we knew God was at work.
I want to thank those who made the evening a wonderful gathering: my wife, Leslie was an integral part of the planning. She believed it would be important to release balloons (biodegradable) for the nine who lost their lives in Charleston, along with many other helpful ideas. Our son, Matt was also so helpful throughout the Sunday afternoon setup.
Blaine Smith graciously provided the sound equipment that was even more crucial because of the number of people who gathered. John Stafford provided his keyboard to lead us in singing together. John, Blaine and Leslie gathered a small choir to help us lift our voices in song.
My faithful, dedicated staff scrambled late Friday to provide a program and candles that we used for the evening. It takes a magnificent staff to provide a magnificent event!
The mayor, other city council members, and at least one county commissioner were present, along with three Salisbury police officers.
The Salisbury Post and WSOC TV of Charlotte covered the gathering.
Fifteen members from the faith community participated: the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Lance, First Baptist; the Rev. Rhodes Woolly, St. John’s Lutheran; the Rev. Robert Black, St. Luke’s Episcopal; the Rev. Carol Hallman, First United Church of Christ; the Rev. Chris Shelton, Life Church; the Rev. Dr. Barrie Kirby, Spencer Presbyterian Church; the Rev. Anthony Smith, Mission House founder; the Rev. Dr. Randy Kirby, First Presbyterian Church; Father John Eckert, Sacred Heart Catholic; the Rev. Patrick Jones, New Zion Missionary Baptist; the Rev. Dr. Ken Walden, Hood Theological Seminary; and the Rev. Margaret Almeida, Second Presbyterian Church.
As I told reporter Susan Shinn on Friday, the last thing Timothy and I wanted this to be was a Band-Aid! A disciple in my congregation called me Friday morning saying that we must use this moment for change. As clergy in this community, we must exhibit and model a new way of being sisters and brothers; and all of us are committed to making that happen. There will be future meetings of the clergy to make plans for change.
As the balloons were released at the end of the vigil, candles were spread throughout the gathering. I stood there thinking about those wonderful words from John’s gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
Our nation experienced a very dark moment on Wednesday, June 17, as nine of our sisters and brothers lost their lives during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. As a community, may all of us allow the “light” to shine through us in this dark moment. And may we reflect this light to show as individuals and as a community that we will never be overcome by the darkness of such hatred.
If the statement “we have to do something” produced Sunday night’s Community Prayer Vigil, just imagine all of the “somethings” we can do together! And let all of God’s people say, “Amen!”
Dr. Jim Dunkin is pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Salisbury.