Peace service explores negative impact of racism, divisiveness

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legal news photos by cynthia price

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

It would be understandable, in light of the presence of religious leaders  from several faith traditions including an imam, to believe that the Sept. 9  Prayer for Peace Service held at the Cathedral of St. Andrew was occasioned by the need to heal wounds following Sept. 11.

But as St. Andrew’s Very Rev. John Geaney  pointed out, Sept. 9 is the feast day for Saint Peter Claver, whose selfless work centuries ago to improve the lives of Colombian enslaved Africans made him the patron saint of slaves. Claver, who lived most of his life in the 1600s, is well-known for combining his Christian principles with the furthering of human rights.

Therefore, the service’s focus on a variety of approaches to the negative impact of racism honored Claver and emphasized organized religion’s role in healing it.

That said, a focus on racism certainly has bearing on the often-faith-based divisions seen in present-day United States, and the inclusion of leaders from a variety of religions pointed toward healing that rift as well.

A unison closing prayer at the service’s end said, “Surround by violence and cries for justice,/we hear your voice telling us what is required..../’Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Mi 6:8).”

Joe Jones, who in addition to being President of the Urban League of Grand Rapids is a minister, talked about the constant state of stress generated in African-Amercans and other people of color due to constant fear of discrimination and racist actions.

He quoted from an article by Jenna Wortham in the New York Times, “Racism’s Psychological Toll,” and from the work of Monica Williams, Ph.D., on mental health disparities in making his point that black people face frequent threats which affect them negatively.

And when his time came to speak, Father John Geaney said, “We need to acknowledge that many among us experience racism every day. Every day? you ask, and I asked the same when an African-American friend first told me so. But I’ve heard it over and over again, it happens every day of their lives.”

Diane Baum, who was listed in the program as Diane Kessler because her email still reflects her former job working for attorney Richard Kessler, read a poem that reflects the Jewish tradition of giving money to charitable pursuits in the name of a young person who is reaching maturity.

After discussing some of the honorable endeavors such money could support, the poem reflects the attitude that without justice there is no peace. “That money could go far,/it could heal a scar/open a door/end a war.”

Lutheran Pastor Bill Edens complimented Father Geaney and the St. Andrews parish on the inclusivity of their worship community.

About 50 people attended the Friday morning service, and a small choir lent their talents in addition.