St. Catherine’s Church hosts a Red Clay area ecumenical prayer service
A dank, rainy evening couldn’t stop more than 300 people from 25 faith communities from gathering at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington Jan. 17 to pray for justice, non-violence and human dignity.
The ecumenical prayer service, organized by Father John M. Hynes, pastor of St. Catherine’s, was appropriately scheduled for the day after the nation celebrated the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the night before the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Rev. Dr. Vincent P. Oliver, senior pastor of New Calvary Baptist Church in Wilmington, told the congregation in his sermon why it had assembled together.
“We have come because of our faith in humanity,” he said. “We are here because of our collective belief in the dignity and value of human life.
“We have assembled here because we come to raise our voices … against the violence and turmoil that exists everyday on the streets of our community and even in the schools that our children attend,” Rev. Oliver said.
Father Hynes had specifically invited Catholic and Protestant congregations in the Prices Corner and Red Clay School District area. The invitation not only brought in church groups, but some teachers and administrators as well, including Red Clay’s Superintendent Mervin Daugherty.
Rev. Oliver said the congregation was gathered to say, “‘No to social injustice and ‘yes’ to equality for all. ‘No’ to lawlessness and violent lifestyles and ‘yes’ to peace and the joy that it brings. ‘No’ to poorly educated children and ‘yes’ to great schools and even greater teachers. ‘No’ to denominational divisions and ‘yes’ to ecumenical partnerships. ‘No’ to racial intolerance and ‘yes’ to God’s gift of diversity.”
Warm and fuzzy?
Leaving St. Catherine’s prayer service with only “warm and fuzzy feelings” would be a monumental waste of time and energy, Rev. Oliver said.
“We’ve got marching orders from Dr. King,” he said. “We cannot walk alone; we’re in this together. This is everybody’s fight. We must pledge that we shall always march ahead.”
He brought the congregation to its feet, encouraging their goals.
“Black, white, brown we are all marching together,” Rev. Oliver said. “Our goal is a common goal of social justice for everybody. I’ve got my marching boots on. …
“I don’t know what you’ve come to do, but I’ve come to start a movement for God. Father Hynes had told me it’s time to come together and we’ve got to march as one in spite of where we come from and who we are. If I’ve got some fellow marchers in this building tonight, would you rise to your feet with me right now and all over this place join with me as King calls out his iconic comment in the words of the Negro spiritual, say it with me, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, free at last.’”
‘Mi casa es tu casa’
Testimonies from members of several of the congregations in attendance followed Rev. Oliver’s rousing sermon with brief reflections of their personal hopes for community justice, non-violence and respect for human dignity.
Noe Trujillo, who immigrated from Mexico in 2000, told the congregation, “A lot of you know the saying in Spanish: “Mi casa es tu casa, (My house is your house), right? That’s how I feel about this whole community, that this community is my community. My hope is that we all will come together as a community, as a community of different small communities, all as one nation under God.”
Trujillo, a St. Catherine parishioner with his wife and three children, added, “We all want to be accepted but we must accept other communities and other ideologies. We need to open up to other communities without fear, without judgment, but most of all with the strength of God with us.”
St. Catherine parishioner and Delcastle High School teacher Lisa Nowak said she had lived a “pretty sheltered life,” even as a mother of five children.
“I lived in my bubble of adulthood but teaching at Delcastle really opened my eyes to what some of our children have to struggle with. Some have learning differences, some are bullied, some come from broken homes…. Some have parents with addictions; some have to be a financial support for their families. Some have unexpected pregnancies and one even had his best friend die in his arms after being shot.
“These stories have been a wake up call for me,” Nowak said.
Nowak also said she hopes the community “can find the commonalities among us all. And that we love and support each other in spite of our differences and for those of us who are Christians that we can see the face of Jesus in each of our neighbors.”
Ebonique Conkey, a mother of six and a member of Rev. Oliver’s New Calvary Baptist Church, testified her wants for the community seem so simple “but we’ve strayed so far away from it: unity, safety, acceptance and to be quick to love and slow to judge.
“As the adults we are to lead, so that our children can learn to do things positively and in the right way because hate is something that’s learned.” Children “were born with love. They see and they imitate what we do as adults. So I want my community to come together.”
Sheridan Quarles Kinsbury from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church cited Martin Luther King’s goals for justice, equality and peace as her hopes for the Wilmington community.
“Jobs, livable wages, nutritious food, affordable health care” were among her hopes.
Caterina Butterbosch, a senior sergeant with the New Castle County Police, noted “there are a lot of people who don’t trust police. My prayers are we can bridge that gap.”
Butterbosch cited John, chapter 16, verse 33, as her favorite meditation: “I have told you all this that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you have many trials and sorrows, but take heart because I have overcome the world.”
Father Hynes said he thought the people of St. Catherine’s attended the prayer service because of their feelings there should be no divisions in our society – racially and culturally. “There’s a yearning for a friendly appreciation of each other. There’s a feeling that out here in the suburbs we are too separate.”
Parishes in the Central New Castle Deanery of the diocese were represented at the service by pastors and parishioners, Father Hynes said. Other churches included Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and Rev. Dr. Silvester S. Beaman; St. Barnabas Episcopal Church and Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick; Christian Love Worship Cathedral and Bishop Dr. George E. Gibson II.
St. Catherine’s Choir and the Bethel AME Church Sanctuary Choir sang at the service.