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Monday, June 22, 2015

Prayers and Candles to Extinguish Racial Hatred

By James Lomuscio

Tonight on the lawn of Westport’s Saugatuck Congregational Church, nine candles were lit to remember nine lives extinguished by hatred.

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Attendees at tonight’s Westport interfaith vigil for the victims of the Charleston shootings link arms to sing “We Shall Overcome.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

Members of the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston and TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport also led the approximate 125 who had gathered in singing “We Shall Overcome,” and everyone held hands, softly swaying in the balmy, late light of summer.

And they prayed. They prayed for the lives lost in a hail of bullets during a service at the Charleston, S.C. Mother Emanuel AME Church Thursday night.

They prayed for the victims’ families. And they prayed for colorblindness in the wake of the racial hatred that reportedly drove the white supremacist suspect Dylann Roof, 21, to do the unthinkable.

“God should be colorless,” said Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of the Conservative Synagogue of Westport Wilton and Weston and Interfaith Clergy chairman.

He urged those assembled to work “to extinguish the fires of hatred.”

Other clergy who spoke, offering prayers and reading psalms included: the Rev. Allison Buttrick Patton, pastor of Saugatuck Congregational, the Rev. Andrew Varga of St. Luke’s Roman Catholic Church; Assistant Rabbi P.J. Schwartz of Temple Israel; the Rev. Debra Haffner of the Unitarian Church; the Rev. Edward C. Horn, pastor of the United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Whitney Edwards, pastor of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

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Jose Felciano, the nine-time Grammy Award winner, and wife Susan comfort each other at tonight’s vigil.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

Harold Bailey, TEAM Westport chairman, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe and Weston First Selectwoman Gayle Weinstein also spoke.

“We are holding a peaceful gathering on the grounds of a church, a hallowed place within our community where we all feel safe and included,” said Marpe. “Sadly, we are here because that statement cannot be made with certainty elsewhere in this country.”

“In recent years, we have joined together too often to remember, mourn and pay our respects to those who were simply living their lives and who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” he added.

For many, the vigil was painfully reminiscent of a similar one held in December 2012 for the 26 victims of Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings. In terms of gravity, it seemed no less unnerving that Charleston is 800 miles away from Westport compared to Newtown, 15 miles.

“To me this does not make sense,” said Weinstein. “A house of worship is just that, it’s a sanctuary. It’s a place to get that unconditional love no matter what.”

She also said that as a political leader she would work “to make sure we pass laws, so this senseless gun violence stops.”

Haffner read the names and gave snippets of the lives of each Charleston victim as Bernicestine Bailey lit each candle.

“We gather today with our hearts broken,” said Haffner. “We mourn today the loss of the nine murdered in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and we hold them in reverent memory.”

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A candle is lit at tonight’s Westport vigil for the Charleston victims. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com

One of the murdered was Myra Thompson, 59, a mother who had “received her license to minister two hours before the shooting,” Haffner said. Another was Tywanza Sanders, 26, described as a recent college graduate who died, taking a bullet for his aunt.

Other names read with the solemnity of 9/11 ceremonies were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a librarian; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, a sexton who had worked at the church for more than 30 years; the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, a state senator; the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a college counselor and mother of four; the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., a veteran; and the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a speech therapist, high school track coach and mother of three.

“We honor their memories by our lives seeking justice,” Haffner said.

Moments before the vigil started, TEAM Westport’s Bailey said he was heartened by the overwhelming sense of forgiveness family members of the victims expressed to alleged shooter Roof as he was arraigned in court.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “And I went to Bethel’s AME church and the one in Norwalk, and they were the same way. My wife (Berniscestine) is AME, and it’s part of the AME creed. The general idea is love. You love your enemies.”

As the ceremony concluded, Patton urged all present “to have those hard conversations” about race.

“Let us do that good work together,” she said.

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Posted 06/22/15 at 09:25 PM  Permalink



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