Rome area United Methodists host anti-racism vigil
Early last week, recruitment letters from the Ku Klux Klan were discovered along driveways in the town of Lee, which is in the Rome area in the Upper New York Conference’s Mohawk District.
Rome-area United Methodists were not going to let this act of hate go unnoticed.
When the news came out about the KKK letters on June, 13, Pastor Brian Lothridge, of the Rome First United Methodist Church; Pastor Pat Hubman, of the Delta and Verona UMCs; and Pastor Deb Wollaber, of the Lee Center, Point Rock, and Taberg UMCs decided to hold an anti-racism vigil at 7 p.m. June 16 at the Delta UMC.
The Delta UMC has a large lawn, where participants in the vigil were visible to the community. The neighborhood behind the church is the one where the letters were delivered.
“We felt our faith compelled us to respond,” Pastor Brian said. “Our baptism vows charge us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Evil sowed up. We are responding. We want to be the light in the darkness, as Jesus called us to be in Matthew 5.”
Pastor Deb said we need to overcome hate with love.
“We really just feel that hate speech does not have a place in our community, in our city, in our world,” she said.
A large, diverse group of people from the community attended the vigil, which included words from pastors Brian, Pat, and Deb; singing; an opportunity for others to pray; candle lighting; and refreshments.
Pastor Brian kicked off the event with an explanation of the gathering and thanked everyone for coming.
“We gather here tonight to be a light in the dark,” he said. “We are concerned that darkness is trying to infiltrate our communities … We have to do something about this. When the KKK comes with hatred toward our brothers and sisters of color and seek to harm them, evil has come to our doorstep. When they twist scripture to try to justify their hatred, we know that evil has come to our doorstep. And when evil arrives on our doorstep, we don’t just take it; we stand for love.”
After pastors Brian, Deb, and Pat shared a few words and prayer, attendees joined Pastor Brian in song as he strummed We shall Overcome on the guitar. People joined hands in solidarity with those they had never met before, singing, “We are not afraid; we are not afraid; we are not afraid today; oh deep in my heart, we shall overcome; we shall overcome some day.”
Several people came to the microphone to offer prayers and share their reasons for attending the vigil.
Keith Rubino, a politician running for the 118th Assembly seat, traveled from Herkimer to attend the vigil.
“The minute I heard that part of my area has been inflicted by an occurrence of hate, I wanted to be here,” he said. “One of the issues I have with the current state of the world is that people in power are somewhat ashamed to come out and denounce hate. I am happy to see so many people here tonight who are willing to stand up and proudly be here in visible fashion, saying that they stand up to hate. Because we cannot beat hate with more hate. It breeds only more hate; it always has, and it always will … we have to spread love, and that’s what we are all doing here tonight.”
Gwen, a worshipper at Mt. Calvery Baptist Church and member of the area chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), lifted a prayer, asking for God to “come before us and make every crooked way straight.”
“Lord, your word says, ‘no weapon formed against us shall prosper in Jesus’s name,’” she said. The crowd proclaimed, “Amen!”
Leonard Martin – a Rome resident, member of the NAACP, and worshipper at Abundant Life Christian Center in East Syracuse – prayed that as vigil attendees went to their separate houses of worship, they would “remain conscious of our togetherness because heaven is going to look like this … probably even more diverse.”
“I ask that you think about this situation because this is something people of color think about all the time,” he said. “In Rome, we experience bigotry, racism, prejudice all the time … it’s something that black people, brown people, and even poor white people experience because classism is a problem too.”
After many people offered their prayers and reflections, candles were passed out and lit, and the crowd sang This Little Light of Mine.
Afterward, some people traveled to Rome City Hall to attend an additional anti-racism vigil, while others stayed for refreshments and discussed plans to keep in touch and arrange get-togethers in the future.
“We need to do this more often … this is a wonderful thing,” Pastor Pat said.
Leonard discussed his experiences with racism with some of the attendees, thanking them for taking a stand. He reminded people that, “Silence is compliance.”
“It was so nice that the United Methodists took the lead in this,” Gwen said. “When I heard about this, I picked up as many elderly people interested in coming as I could who usually won’t travel at night. This sort of gathering is so important.”
Rome-area United Methodists’ anti-racism vigil, an interactive reflection of Jesus’ light and love, beautifully showcased the connection that takes place when we are God’s love to our neighbors in all places.
Editor’s Note: The issue of racism is being addressed through the Imagine No Racism initiative in Upper New York. Click here to learn more or become involved.