By Rev. Todd Weir
First Churches of Northampton
When we first planned a post-election vigil, our concern was about violence and acts of bigotry in the aftermath, and we wanted to pray for safety and hope. Northampton is a very liberal town and in general is welcoming to the LGBT community. In fact, the First Churches of Northampton and Edwards UCC are Open and Affirming, which means we welcome persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions into our full life and ministry. So it is no surprise that the local interfaith group thought there was need for a candlelight vigil immediately following the election in order to address potential concern and fear among the townsfolk.
The vigil was jointly planned at the last minute by ministers of Edwards Church (where the vigil was held), First Churches and The Unitarian Society of Northampton. The event was not meant to be a celebration, a post-mortem, nor a political statement; our goal was to provide a time of reflection and a place for gathering hope among our members.
It turned out to be a real community event. Despite the short notice, about 300 people attended. What is more extraordinary, though, is that only about half the crowd were members of the local churches. Previous to the event, someone from the MoveOn organization had seen the vigil listed on the church Facebook page and contacted us to get permission to promote it. We were happy to let them do so, after making sure they understood that this was not a political event, but a place where people could feel secure and pray.
We discovered that many who attended were looking for a safe place in the midst of uncertainty. There was a large turnout of lesbian and transgender folks, who were very afraid following the election results. Others just wanted to support their neighbors. We read Psalm 46 as a reminder that while things change and there is uncertainty, we should be grounded in the knowledge that God is still working for the good among us no matter what happens or changes.
Many non-members who came were so moved and inspired, they attended church on the following Sunday. And then the next Sunday. We saw a 15-20% increase in attendance the first Sunday after the election, and the increase has held. New worshippers get to see our members wearing safety pins, symbolizing our promise to watch out for each other and keep people safe and speak out against bigotry and hatred.
We did not hold the vigil to make a statement, but to connect to God, the source of our being, the ground of our being, the one from whom life springs forth. Strategy to make God’s love and justice real is emerging as I write, but we wanted to be grounded in the hope of our faith for the days ahead. That vigil proved to be sanctuary for people who were not part of our regular religious community, and inspiration for those who may want to be.
This is an important time to be the church, and do what we do best: living in joyful community, caring for the poor, fighting for the powerless, forgiving often, sharing earthly and spiritual resources, embracing diversity, making God’s love and justice real. The one thing I hope we can all agree to do right now is to denounce violence and defend people from intimidation, no matter where they are on life’s journey.
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