After I preached a couple of weeks ago (July 10), discussing the role of race in our society and confessing my own white privilege and use of it, a parishioner said to me -- I'm waiting for the second half of your sermon, the what comes next. I'd been praying about that for a several of weeks now. What can I do personally to enter into positive and open discussions about race, racism, and white privilege, especially at the intersection with violence? What can our congregation, Christ Church, do to make present and living God's reign, God's kingdom and the Beloved Community that it is supposed to be? I think we did one small but tangible step towards living into the Beloved Community last Sunday.

A bit of background first. On Tuesday July 19, Mayor Allison Silberberg called together the clergy council to meet. The clergy council is open to all clergy of any faith and tradition who serve in the city of Alexandria. The idea behind it was to gather and get to know one another in good times so that if, God forbid, a disaster happens, the congregations of Alexandria would be poised to be a resource for the community. At this gathering on July 19, there were about 25 religious leaders from the Alexandria. Pastors shared out of their experiences of racism and profiling, as well as those experiences of their congregants. At least 2 clergy in the room had been in law enforcement prior to becoming ministers -- they noted the dual hurt they feel when there is strife between the police and protesters, especially black protesters. The focus of the group kept returning to the homicides in north Old Town. The Rev. Dr. Gregory King, senior pastor at Russell Temple CME Church on N. Alfred Street shared about prayer circles that he has been a part of previously. Could we do that in Alexandria? I jumped in with my 47 cents to say, yes, and let's start this Sunday. The time was decided to meet at 3:00 pm at Montgomery and Henry Streets.

group-from-interfaith-alexandria-2-photo-credit-david-gortner.jpgOn one of the hottest days this summer, I met Pastor King under a big tree on Montgomery Street. By 2:50 pm, there were already about 6 clergy coming together. (Not bad for an event that was publicized to clergy on Thursday afternoon.) Soon there were more than 20 clergy there and Mrs. Hall, whose son was killed there over the July 4th weekend, was present as well. More clergy came -- in the end there were over 40 people present. Pastor King invited me to start us off, so I reminded us of the context and our purpose -- Alexandria is a diverse city with people from a large variety of religious traditions and that we had come to pray for healing, peace, and unity within a neighborhood that needed to know the depths of God's healing love. Then I invited those gathered to pray one by one and I started off our prayers.

The time of prayer was intense, deep, heartfelt, and personal. We stood in a tight, layered circle, with Mrs. Hall and some of her family in the center. We prayed and prayed hard for healing, for justice, for peace, for unity, for respect, for conflict resolution, for God's love. After about 20 minutes, our prayer came to a conclusion. Pastor King felt the same moving of the Holy Spirit that I did and announced that we would be gathering at that same spot, under the tree on Montgomery Street east of Henry, every Sunday at 3:00 pm for the foreseeable future. As he said, this is now our congregation -- the weekly gathering for Interfaith Prayer and Presence.

Prayer is powerful. Being present is powerful as well. I firmly believe that our presence, being God's hands, feet, and hearts in a hurting neighborhood, will also move mountains of distrust and disunity with peace and unity. Along the way, we will get to meet and get to know our neighbors, both in that north Old Town neighborhood and our neighbors from congregations all over the city. God will work on us and within us; God will match us up with those who will become new friends.

There is always more room in the prayer circle. There is room for you. Come join us at 3:00 pm, this and every Sunday.

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(Photo credits The Rev. Jo Belser  and The Rev. Dr. David Gortner)