Community Event

The “feast” offered at the conclusion of the online {span id=”docs-internal-guid-8a4f5a4b-7fff-b0fd-a743-38fa2035e545”}{span}24th Annual Service of Unity Jan. 18.{/span}{/span}

WATAUGA — Huddled around computer screens and phones alike, approximately 100 members of seven different faiths celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. at the 24th Annual Service of Unity Jan. 18.

Hosted by Mabel Methodist Church, attendees typically sit together in church pews and listen to the sounds of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church’s Junaluska Gospel Choir belting out songs like “Lift Every Voice and Sing” or “We Shall Overcome.”

This year, like many other events, the gathering was online with songs and prayers prerecorded.

The evening started off with Mabel Methodist Church Pastor Cindy Lunsford opening with a prayer. Throughout the event, Lunsford offered the Prayer of Elimination from the Sisters of Mercy.

The prayer begins: “The face of racism looks different today from how it looked in the past. Overt racism is easily condemned, but the sin of racism is often with us in more subtle forms. This day we gather in the love of God and neighbor to examine four patterns of racism in our hearts, and our world systems.”

Lunsford said she liked how this prayer wasn’t just a worship moment, but also a teaching moment.

“You have people that are all together for one moment from many different faiths so what a wonderful time to be able to share the realism of what we’re talking about,” Lunsford said. “We have to quit being quiet about it and say what needs to be said.”

The “it” Lunsford is referring to is “{span}racism, prejudice, injustice and divisions between humanity.”

The four patterns of racism offered in the Prayer of Elimination are spatial racism, institutional racism, environmental racism and individual racism. The full prayer text can be found at www.sistersofmercy.org/resources/prayer-the-elimination-of-racism/.

Interspersed between the patterns of racism were prayers and readings from seven different faiths. The faiths represented included Christianity, Mennonite, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, Baháʼí, and Unitarian Universalist.

“We all want justice for everyone and hopefully that came through in the prayers that were offered by the different faiths,” Lunsford said.

Alice Naylor, of the Unitarian community, read a poem called Harvest by Nikki Giovanni who wrote poems about the period of segregation and Jim Crow laws. Harvest was written for Rosa Parks.

Read by Naylor, the poem went on to talk of Parks not giving up her seat on a Montgomery public bus to white man.

“When the driver told us — it was four of us — to move, three people moved. I didn’t, I couldn’t. It was just so wrong,” Naylor read.

Another member of the Unitarian community, Earl LeClaire, shared a short essay he wrote called White Hate. He said he wrote the piece after the events on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C.

“White hate smells like racism. Smells like insurrection. Smells like unfounded fear. Smells like ignorance. Smells like strange fruit hanging from a tree,” LeClaire read at the event in a prerecorded video. “White hate speaks through human morals that spew malicious lies with tongues that torture the soul.”

Along with the events at Capitol Hill, LeClaire recalled when George Floyd was killed by cops in Minneapolis as well as the racial injustice protests that followed this summer.

Recorded songs from the Junaluska Gospel Choir were played at various times and people could be seen dancing and worshipping along with the songs.

Pastor Mike Mathes of the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church offered up a prayer that touched on Dr. Martin Luthe King, Jr.

“When you love something and you love it enough, fear won’t get in your way,” Mathes preached. “We see that in the life of Dr. King. No matter how he was beat. No matter how many times he was arrested. No matter how many roadblocks were put in his way.”

This year, for the first time, a prayer was read from the Quran by Rahman Tashakkori.

Before moving to the United States in 1990, Tashakkori and his wife — who are originally from Iran — said they had heard about Dr. King as a symbol of peace and freedom.

“His message of peace and justice at this challenging time, give(s) us all hope,” Tashakkori said in a prerecorded video. “We all have a dream of a better world. The world in peace, justice and freedom.”

After the event, Lunsford said people typically stick around and eat food and build relationships with one another. Instead of a feast, Lunsford offered up a picture of what was typically featured to eat after the event. People were also invited to stay in the Zoom and chat with one another at the conclusion of the event.

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