NEW BRITAIN ‚Äď Energized by the nation‚Äôs passion for social justice following the death of George Floyd and the calls to action on countless similar cases, church leaders from all faiths hope to ride the momentum in creating a more interfaith community.
‚ÄúWe can get more accomplished by unifying together,‚ÄĚ said Rev. Samuel Blanks, pastor for Spottswood AME Zion Church, one of the largest and oldest Black churches in New Britain. He recognizes one of the challenges has been the community‚Äôs lack of inclusiveness toward other beliefs, such as the Jewish and Muslim communities.
To get started, Blanks reached out to Jane Rowe, pastor of South Church, who has been involved with the New Britain Area Interfaith Conference for several years trying to do what Blanks hopes to accomplish. Together they were able to gather over 120 multifaith leaders last week for their first virtual prayer service, where they also discussed ways to create diversity and to bring a sense of inclusiveness not just among leaders, but congregants as well.
But that effort must start from the leaders, said Rowe, stating a consensus that came out from the prayer service was the need to build relationships among the clergy.
‚ÄúTo cross cultural boundaries is the only way change is going to happen,‚ÄĚ Rowe said. ‚ÄúWhen people come together and cross the traditional boundaries that divide us, it creates hope that change could really happen. That‚Äôs the energy I‚Äôm feeling today.‚ÄĚ
During the virtual prayer service, Blanks said it was refreshing to see that people from different communities can be in one place to have discussions that are centered around peace and justice.
‚ÄúBeing a pastor at a predominantly Black church, to see a larger unified effort is important to me,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúHopefully as we move forward, we‚Äôll be able to take that vision and shape it into a platform where we can be a voice for other issues, such as economic disadvantages and education disparities.‚ÄĚ
Both pastors agreed the underlying spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement feels different this time around. Rather than a single group of people focusing on a single issue, the movement has created an embracing environment where people from all walks of life are joining hands and speaking out on racial issues.
‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs because people have had enough. It sparked such a national movement because people have seen too many times over and over again of a Black man crying out ‚ÄėI can‚Äôt breathe‚Äô in public,‚ÄĚ Blanks said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs also a generational thing. We‚Äôve lived through the hard era of the Civil Rights Movement and Jim Crow laws, and now this upcoming generation is saying enough is enough. We are tired of racism and because we‚Äôre living in a much more diversified community, everyone is coming together to support each other.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIf you still can‚Äôt understand the outrage or the movement, I often say just take a look at your own situation,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThere are times when we can‚Äôt breathe. That‚Äôs the route I take when I try to explain this to people. This is about being able to breathe and have a sense of equality.‚ÄĚ
Describing the present as a ‚Äúremarkable time of learning and seeing how people are realizing what really matters to them,‚ÄĚ Rowe said the changing dynamic has been engaging and invigorating in many ways.
It has also been exhausting, she admitted. ‚ÄúWith everything that‚Äôs been going on, it‚Äôs a lot to take in. But I‚Äôm very excited to get involved and make greater strides in developing relationships within the clergy.‚ÄĚ
One important aspect of the pandemic to acknowledge is how it highlighted the disparities experienced by people of color and economically deprived communities, said Rowe. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs made us much more aware and helped us see that the issues are very complicated and goes beyond police brutality. People are feeling the need to speak out more and I think that will make the movement more lasting.‚ÄĚ
Earlier this month, Rowe did a series of sermons on racism and white privilege, topics that are not usually on her sermon list.
‚ÄúThis time I felt like I couldn‚Äôt ignore it and had to spend some time on it,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs tough doing virtual sermons because I don‚Äôt have that immediate contact with people. But I‚Äôve invited conversations and people are responding to them. I am realizing the importance of continuing those conversations, it‚Äôs never too late to educate yourself and make changes.‚ÄĚ
For Blanks and Rowe, this is a very hopeful and exciting time to witness history and bring new life to old ideas. Eventually they would like to reach out to a wider range of faith-based communities, but for now, they are going to focus their efforts on a local level.
‚ÄúBy bringing more diverse people to the table, we will be able to see a turnaround. Even if it‚Äôs hard to see on the national level, it would be good to see locally,‚ÄĚ Blanks said. ‚ÄúI hope New Britain can be that model to show the state and the nation that we need to push forward.‚ÄĚ
The second virtual prayer service will be held 9 a.m. Friday on Zoom. For more information, contact Jane Rowe at 860-223-3691 ext. 103.
Contact Catherine Shen at firstname.lastname@example.org