As I work with the North Carolina Council of Churches through Partners in Health and Wholeness, I am embedded in the communities and stories of Eastern NC. This may be my favorite part of my job with the Council. I listen, learn, and do life with the communities that welcome me. While my “day job” is to help congregations think theologically about and then commit to health and wholeness, I also find myself in various communal efforts that strive for equality and peace. Lately, with the cascade of tragic events affecting all the layers of our society, I have been attending both vigils and rallies for peace.
In Greenville, where I live, one of these events was a peace vigil in response to the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the five Dallas police officers that were killed. It was an occasion that also served as a peace rally for unity and action, offering a platform for tough questions to be addressed by local leaders, including the mayor and chief of police. I found myself going not only as a concerned citizen, but as a minister and neighbor seeking hope. I needed to be around people and stories, pulsing with life and conviction, that gave names to the systemic racism, brokenness, and brutality. I needed to be with others. I knew that reading abrasive tweets, social media refereeing, and premature news articles was not what I needed. I needed to listen, learn, and do life with my neighbors. This peace rally broadcasted voices from all areas of our community, with diversified understandings and outlooks on our societal issues. Voices were lifted and heard. I saw many of the congregants and clergy that I work with. This was not a mass of people hiding behind a well-intentioned hashtag, but instead a community showing up and standing together.
These community events revitalize my commitment to peace and justice for all North Carolinians, as is the mission of NC Council of Churches. As I try to live out my faith, I am trying to to show up and let my neighbors know that I am here listening and learning. Moreover, I am repenting. During these vigils, I am reminded how important it is to learn different churches’ stories and hear their congregants’ struggles. The work to prevent another vigil starts with gaining each other’s trust so that we all feel heard and dignified. I know that I can only do so much individually, but at the very least, I can be present and listen and learn.