Many watched the news in shock as the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, unfolded last weekend. Comments surrounding the horrific events leave people confused, angry, misunderstood and even re-wounded.
Once again America has been pushed into a divisive debate, and it’s hard to see anything but negativity.
A couple of bright spots in the story emerge, however, that bring hope and encouragement. The first was a group of clergy from different denominations and faiths that came together—weeks in advance of the white supremacists’ planned demonstration—to prepare to peacefully protest the hateful group.
The Courageous Clergy
Congregate C’Ville formed just five weeks ago to prepare for the Unite the Right rally that culminated in violent clashes on Saturday August 12, 2017. The group called for 1,000 clergy to come to the city to stand for love and resist racism.
Rev. Seth Wispelwey, a United Church of Christ minister from Charlottesville, trained numerous clergy on the practice of nonviolent protest in the style of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
The group had a trial run for the events that would unfold on Saturday the night before as they gathered with over 1,000 people at St. Paul’s Memorial Church to pray. As they prepared to disperse, white supremacists swarmed onto the University of Virginia across the street from the church. The supremacists started harassing a group of counter-protestors gathered in front of a Thomas Jefferson statue. At this point participants of the prayer group rushed back into the church and shut the doors. As they waited in the crowded church, the group sang hymns.
One woman tried leaving the prayer meeting and was maced by white supremacists.
Despite the scare the night before, the group gathered on Saturday to march, silently, through the streets of Charlottesville. Approximately 80 clergy that had been trained by Rev. Wispelwey and his group marched straight into the heart of the demonstration, ThinkProgress reports. The others who had missed the training gathered at a park a block away from the demonstration where an emergency medical care center was erected.
— Susan Frederick-Gray (@sfrederickgray) August 13, 2017
“We knew we were in God’s hands, and that God is stronger than anything that could come against us,” Lisa Sharon Harper shared. However, the situation was definitely tense. Harper recalls, “It really felt like every step you take could be your last.”
At one point the trained group of clergy got particularly bold—blocking the way of the demonstrators as they linked arms.
— Congregate C’ville (@CongregateVille) August 12, 2017
“A group of white supremacists broke through our line with shields,” Wispelwey said. “Some of them were screaming and spitting slurs [as they] physically shoved clergy aside with their shields.” The clergy tried to regroup, but things turned increasingly violent. The antifa intervened and the clergy were able to disperse at that point.
“We Replaced You” Vigil
Another ray of hope presents itself in the impromptu candlelight vigil that cropped up last night, Wednesday, August 16, 2017. According to the New York Times, thousands of people gathered at the University of Virginia campus.
The group, which included many college students, sang songs of peace and belonging, including some gospel songs and hymns. The turnout was impressive, considering the leaders worked hard to keep the event off social media and use word of mouth instead.
— Gabrielle Smith (@GabbySmithTV) August 17, 2017
One student who attended the candlelight vigil, Emily Angelotti, summarized the event as a “beautiful beginning of the healing process.” Realizing the gathering wouldn’t completely heal the wound, Angelotti says, “But I hope that it doesn’t end here.”