All it took was an idea – and a Facebook invitation.
The results were about 250 people gathering in front of the Trinity Heights United Methodist Church in Newton, Kansas, on Aug. 16 -- five days after a violent racial attack in Charlottesville, Virginia – for the first Stand For Love Newton, a rally and celebration of peace.
“We came up with the idea Sunday,” said the Rev. Donna Voteau, Trinity Heights pastor. “Two of the youth and one of the youth workers from our 11:11 (contemporary worship) service said, ‘We’ve got to do something.’”
Stand For Love was also the name of a Charlottesville-inspired rally in Wichita a few days earlier, which Voteau said turned out to be “completely political.”
“Our goal was to pull off an event that was not political, that was open to every person that was involved in a church, those who were not and those who wanted to be,” she said.
Between 200 to 300 attended, depending on varying reports from each of Newton’s two newspapers.
“I was in shock,” said Voteau, in her third year as Trinity Heights pastor and 38th year as clergy. “I was praying for 40 to be here, because I doubted what Facebook could do.
“I should not doubt that,” she added.
And out of that crowd, only about 20 were from Trinity Heights, she said.
“It was totally community and others,” Voteau said.
The service was held “in front of, not in” the church, “to help people feel more welcome” in the amphitheater-style front yard, she said. “It made a lot of sense to do it there.”
A variety of different churches in the community, including the Salvation Army, a Hispanic church, two African pastors, Episcopal and Mennonite attended and participated, Voteau said. Local Christian band Outside the Walls led the music.
Voteau distributed a page of quotes about racism, some serious and some more comical, to those gathered, who were encouraged to break into groups to discuss which had impact on them.
“It was a time for people in our community to get to know one another,” she said. “It was really a mingling, you could tell, of lots of different persons in our society.”
Pastors of different ethnic origins and denominations led parts of the prayers.
“We may not pray the same,” Voteau said, “but when it comes to racism we certainly are all praying the same.”
The 45-minute service ended about 8:30 p.m., with candlelight and the singing of “Amazing Grace” and “We Shall Overcome.”
Voteau said she received a lot of positive response from the crowd, including the phrase “this is just what I needed” repeated several times.
“I can’t just sit at home and be mad at my TV. Thank you for letting me do something,” was another reply.
The only publicity for the rally was a Facebook event post, which was boosted twice for about $3 per boost, Voteau said.
“Whatever community you’re in, racism can certainly be lifted as something we can always be made aware of,” she said. “Sometimes, the simplest of invitations to someone makes a difference that people will attend.”
The response to the rally left Voteau stunned.
“God outdid God’s self in what happened,” she said. “It was pretty amazing.”
Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.