Congregations of diverse faiths gathered at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Kenosha Wednesday night seeking to promote understanding in response to violence against religious institutions and those who worship at them.
As the mild day gave way to a cooler, partly cloudy late afternoon, members of Kenosha’s Congregations United to Serve Humanity converged in the church’s east garden to remember the latest victims of such violence — including the more than 200 people who died in explosions that targeted Catholic churches in Sri Lanka last month on Easter Sunday. The congregations also remembered those of other faiths who perished as a result of violence in the U.S. In March, a similar vigil at the church recalled 50 people who died in mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Rev. Erik David Carlson, pastor of the Bradford Community Church Unitarian Universalist, opened the vigil while affirming that they stood united in their support of “religious freedom here and around the world.”
“We are deeply troubled by an increase of violence perpetuated in the name of faith, despite the greatest teachings of our world religions to compel us to lives of compassion, forgiveness, peace and justice,” Carlson said. “As religious leaders committed not only to our spiritual traditions, but to the sacred ideals of freedom of religious expression, we condemn all acts of violence, but especially those that prevent people everywhere from worshiping peaceably.”
He said it was their wish to help “build a world that is more compassionate, more loving and more appreciative of the contributions of our neighbors” in order to see religious diversity as sources of strength that unites rather than divides.
Joining Carlson included the Rev. Matthew Buterbaugh of St. Matthew’s; Rabbi Dena Feingold of Beth Hillel Temple; Fatih Harpci, a Carthage College religion professor representing the Albanian American Islamic Center; the Rev. Kathleen Gloff of Somers Community United Church of Christ; and the Rev. Bonnie Bell, pastor of Immanuel United Methodist Church. Several religious leaders delivered words of comfort and affirmation, reminding those present of the common thread among them was not hate, but love.
“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not lave a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen,” Bell said reading from book of 1 John. “The command we have from him is this: Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
A paper chain, composed of a rainbow of colors, representing as many lives lost, lined a rail and continued into the garden area near where about two dozen people assembled. The somber tolling of the church bells to remember those who had died momentarily halted the sweet chirping of young birds and later those in attendance observed 200 seconds of silence as well.
“We come together this evening not only in solidarity against intolerance and violence, not only in pursuit of peaceful existence among ourselves and all people, but also in (their) memory,” Feingold said.