Members and ministers of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy joined nearly 100 residents and community leaders in a prayer ‘vigil for peace and justice’ Tuesday evening.
The demonstration came one day after a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of teenager Michael Brown.
The decision drew protests across Philadelphia late Monday and into Tuesday.
Weekly prayers in Mt. Airy
Unitarian Universalist Seminarian Maria McCabe says UUCR has been hosting weekly prayer vigils since September, less than a month after the Missouri teenager was killed. Tuesday night’s gathering had the largest turnout to date.
“The effort was started across the denomination by a minister in Missouri near Ferguson. These issues of race, issues of oppression and issues of systemic racialization are so key to the justice work in this congregation,” McCabe said.
“So, we made the commitment to be here until the grand jury rendered its decision, but longer if we needed to be.”
“Some of us are angry. Some of us can’t stop crying. We’re here to share those feelings and to find the comfort and solace of being together,” UCCR minister Kathy Ellis said.During the peaceful assembly, attendees stood along Stenton Avenue with signs that read “honk for justice” and “black lives matter.”
At one point, 10 Philadelphia police officers arrived and observed the demonstration from the opposite side of the street. The officers declined to say whether they were there as a precautionary measure.
Following the outdoor demonstration, attendees entered the sanctuary where they sang songs of comfort, lit candles and offered prayers for victims of police brutality. Some attendees sat quietly in the pews and cried.
Rev. Kent Matthies of the Unitarian Society of Germantown was one of several local clerics who attended and shared heartfelt stories during the service.
“I have a friend named Umi. We’re the same age, we both have boys and they play together. Umi is black; I’m white. I do not have to teach my boys what it’s going to be like driving while white. But Umi already knows — he’s got four black boys — that he’s gonna have to teach them a lot about what to do and what not to do when you get stopped,” Matthies said.
“No matter where they live, for as long as those four little boys live in America, they will have to know how to increase their odds to not be hurt, or jailed, or roughed up; let alone, killed. And it makes no sense.”
People of all ages attended the vigil. Some of the younger attendees had just as much to say on the subject as the elders.
Fourteen year old Devon Wood of Germantown said she came to the vigil for her brother.
“My little brother saw the report on television this morning and he was wondering why my mom wouldn’t let him wear a hoodie outside. He’s just 5 years old. He didn’t understand why my mom was crying,” Wood said.
“And it just broke my heart, and I just couldn’t stand to see something like that; somebody so young being affected in that way.”
Running along the center aisle of the UUCR sanctuary was a printed list of the names, ages, and birthplaces of every person who has been killed by a police officer since 2012.
McCabe echoed the importance of church ministries getting involved in social justice issues.
“What we do in church is important but if we don’t bring it outside then it doesn’t mean what we want it to mean. Our theology is it’s about justice. We can stand for justice inside but we also have to stand for justice outside,” she said.
“My prayer is that a movement will come from this.”
Wood said she hopes for increased awareness.
“I just hope people will see that this is not a small thing, that things like this actually happen, and it needs to change because this violence against anybody–no matter what race–shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere.”
UCCR plans to continue its weekly prayer vigils indefinitely.