Submitted by Rev. Christopher Wendell, on behalf of the Bedford Interfaith Clergy Association
In light of last week’s racially-motivated murders at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, we, members of the Bedford Interfaith Clergy Association, write to share some of our reflections on this shooting and how we can respond in faith and charity.
We know that many of you shared our shock, anger, frustration and sadness upon learning of the nine innocent people who were shot while attending a Bible study in their own house of worship. We mourn for Clementa, Cynthia, Sharonda, Tywanza, Ethel, Susie, Depayne, Daniel, and Myra. We mourn with and for the Mother Emmanuel community, who yet again in her storied history must bear the burden of being victimized by racial violence.
Before we had learned anything else about the circumstances of these killings, our hearts already were aching with grief for the violation of safety and sanctuary that we and so many others around the world depend on from our houses of worship. Spiritual homes are meant to be places of vulnerability – places where we can feel safe enough to open our hearts to each other, to the mysteries of the divine, and to the parts of ourselves in need of transformation and blessing. We are reminded that not everyone among us can take this safety for granted.
As we learned more in the hours that followed the initial announcement — that these killings were planned, deliberate acts motivated by the racial hatred of the perpetrator and enabled by the easy access to firearms that remains our national policy – our heartache turned to anger.
Of course we condemn, in the strongest terms, the racism of the shooter. Racial, ethnic, or religiously motivated violence of any kind directed at African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Jewish Americans or any other group, has no place among the people of God. But our condemnation of hateful violence is hollow if it is not backed up by commitment – a commitment to stand in faithful solidarity with all victims of hate crimes, and to work in our own communities to build greater mutual understanding and harmony across all lines of difference.
We have been encouraged by the way we’ve seen Bedford residents, organizations, business owners, some town officials, and others begin living into this commitment over the past year in our community. Open dialogue about past and present experiences of discrimination, marginalization, victimization, fear and privilege can be difficult, especially at first – but these are always holy conversations and over time hold the potential to be deep and transformative blessings.
This work is still ongoing for us as individual faith leaders; and like many communities in our country, it is still ongoing for this town we love so deeply. Chasms still exist between our neighbors of different faiths, races, family structures, and levels of affluence – chasms of experience, chasms of understanding and chasms of empathy.
We pledge to continue to promote, participate, plan and prod our town to keep the conversations about our different experiences of life in this community that we all care about alive, healthy, and forward looking. We pledge to encourage generous listening in these conversations, so that no person of goodwill need worry about making honest mistakes with language or be afraid that their perspectives are without value. We pledge that our communities of faith will encourage the personal vulnerability and introspection needed for dialogue to lead to transformation. And we ask each of you, gentle readers, to think about what role you are playing or could play moving forward in helping our town be a place of greater harmony and understanding across all lines of difference.
The Bedford Interfaith Clergy Association
Rabbi Susan Abramson, Temple Shalom Emeth, Burlington
Pastor Scott Arnold, First Baptist Church of Bedford
Rev. John Castricum, Pastor, First Church of Christ, Congregational, U.C.C.
Rev. Tracy Cabot Claudio, High Priestess, Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple
Rev. John Gibbons, First Parish, Unitarian Universalist in Bedford
Rev. Megan Lynes, First Parish, Unitarian Universalist in Bedford
Patricia Marks, Director of Religious Education, St. Michael Parish
Ken Meltz, Director of Faith Formation, Holy Family Parish
The. Rev. Dr. Bruce Nickerson, Deacon, Bedford Resident
Rabbi Jill Perlman, Temple Isaiah, Lexington
The Rev. Christopher Wendell, Rector, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church