Friday, November 2, 2018 7:30 p.m.:
As the customary hour of shabbat observance for Congregation Etz Chaim of Merced approached, it became very evident this would not be the usual gathering for prayer, worship, and reading of sacred texts. Cars had filled the parking lot of United Methodist Church of Merced and persons of varied faiths and no faith; differing backgrounds, politics, and ethnicities; young, old, and of various stations in life gathered to remember Jewish brothers and sisters who were killed just a week before while they worshipped at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.
There in the sanctuary, 11 clergy of 9 different faith traditions led a service of light and remembrance. The approximately 120 mourners from more than 20 different faith traditions were walked through reflections and prayers of gathering, mourning, confessing, remembering, responding, hoping, and looking to the future. Through songs of lament and peace, prayers for each reflection, lighting candles, and naming each of the Pittsburgh victims, all were united in the desire to simply love each other and stand, pray, and work for unity.
“So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole world. Unity brings blessings. It flows when God’s people come together in unity, laying aside their personal prejudices and agendas to love each other deeply from the heart.” – Pastor Daryl Robinson, Hope Center, Merced.
Muslim sat next to Christian and Protestant cried with the Roman Catholic. Jewish prayed with Christian. And Muslim. Spanish, Aramaic, Hebrew, Korean, and English were spoken. The grief expressed was beyond language, tradition, or politics.
“…there is no name for the impact of loss, sadness, and grief. This passing cannot be voiced. It can only be felt – felt with the heart.” – Rev. John Russell Curry, Presbyterian Church USA.
“It was moving and inspiring to witness the people of diverse faith, race, [and] ethnicity come together to unite in shared grief, common humanity, and moral stance to speak truth to power.” – Rev. John Song, Wesley Foundation, United Methodist Campus Ministries.
For my part, I simply couldn’t stand idly by in the midst of a hurting community and choose not to try to offer space for healing. We all need to be reminded that humanity is greatly loved by God.
The service of remembrance ended with the praying of a Mourning Kaddish in Aramaic, the lighting of candles, and a sung blessing for shalom, or peace. Tears, hugs, words of thanks, and words and gestures of comfort were openly shared.
“As we lifted our lit candles and sang Shalom, I saw a tear run down the face of one of my Jewish sisters and knew how we responded mattered.” – Rev. Victoria Schlintz, United Methodist Church of Merced.
Rev. Twyla Reece of Unity Church Merced and Deacon Charles Reyburn of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church stood in the vestibule, agreeing, “This can’t stop here.” This intentional solidarity and community must continue to work for unity in Merced, the town of mercy.
President Carol Madruga of Congregation Etz Chaim states that “The service of remembrance and light was our beautiful community coming together in solidarity. The members of our congregation felt surrounded by peace, love and caring by so many individuals of different faiths. The night of worship has left a lasting impression on us all.”
And so, this cannot end here: The faith leaders involved in the remembrance have committed to producing ways to offer space for healing and bringing Merced together in Unity.
Peace and blessings,
Rev. Ella Luna-Garza
Pastor, United Methodist Church of Merced