VA interfaith service focuses on healing together (4/21/07)
By Tammy Tripp, DisciplesWorld contributing writer
RICHMOND, Va. (4/21/07) — The toll of church bells echoed across the city and across Richmond’s Monroe Park for three minutes on Friday as people of all different faiths and denominations – most of them wearing maroon and orange – gathered for a moment of silence and an interfaith prayer service in the state’s capitol to honor those killed and wounded at Virginia Tech.
Smith was on his way to Blacksburg with Ryan Rinn, the grassroots organizer for the Interfaith Center, when he had a realization. He recalled something his friend Rick Augsburger said once: “Don’t become the disaster after the disaster.” So instead of continuing on to Blacksburg, they turned the car around and headed back toward Richmond to work with the state to organize a service that would aid the healing process and offer a response from the faith community.
The Virginia Interfaith Center designed and coordinated the worship service, which was attended by more than 2,500 people and was part of the statewide day of mourning called for by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. At least 42 other states held similar services, rang bells or held moments of silence for the victims on Friday.
Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the United Methodist Church of Virginia opened the interfaith service with words of unity. “Today we gather as one Virginia united in our grief and pain,” she said softly. “Today we are all part of the Hokie nation. We share the same creator God…”
Religious leaders from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities spoke and read from their tradition’s sacred texts. Their messages were of remembrance, hope, forgiveness and encouragement. They shared the outdoor stage with three flags: the U.S. flag, Virginia’s state flag and the maroon Virginia Tech flag.
Disciples minister Rick Harrison attended the service and said he thought it was appropriate that so many faiths were represented.
“All those who died and were wounded were of all of those traditions,” said Harrison, who pastors Seventh Street Christian Church in Richmond. “It didn’t matter if the person was praying in Arabic, Hebrew or English, there was a common understanding that life is a gift of the holy, whatever we call the holy.”
Gov. Tim Kaine, Attorney General Robert McDonnell, Richmond Mayor Douglas Wilder and Lieutenant Gov. Bill Bolling were also part of the service and offered prayers for the victims and their families. Kaine spoke of the universality of grief, but also of the universalities of strength, hope and optimism.
Kaine, a former missionary of the Catholic Church, also recounted the story of Job in the Old Testament. “Job didn’t take it [suffering] lying down,” he told the crowd. “He argued with his creator, but he never lost his faith, never lost his hope, and that’s what we’re called to do.”
After a prayer for the victims and their families, the names of those lost were read by the victims’ family members, girlfriends, fiancées, suite mates, classmates, friends. A bell rang after each name was said. Some names were spoken softly. Other names were said through tears. Still others were read with a strong voice and a fond smile of remembrance.
To end the service, Archana Bhatt of the Hindu community evoked moving and symbolic images of the human bond with Virginia Tech’s unique and contrasting colors.
“We must focus on the maroon of our blood… and the orange of our sunrise, God’s constant reminder that going on is the truest form of courage,” she said. “We must embrace those who suffer and throw our questions of how and why out into the universe. And we must rise like our orange sun and beat and flow like our maroon blood. In His stillness, we will prevail.”
Bhatt closed the service by leading a chant familiar, almost sacred, to Tech fans. “Let’s go!” she yelled into the microphone. The crowd responded. “Hokies!” they screamed back and burst into applause.
Although, as Kaine reminded the crowd, the days of suffering are not yet over, there was a sense in Richmond that the service was an important step in the healing process. Smith said he believes that being in community is an important part of that process. As Christians, he said, we’re called to be with our neighbors, especially in times of suffering.
Smith said it was challenging to put together a service for people of so many different faiths because it is important to both affirm and be true your own faith while at the same time being mindful of other faiths.
“But,” he added, “Disciples of Christ have to work in interfaith ways, because that’s what Christ calls us to do.”
And, he said, being together and supportive of one another is part of what will help us heal.