Church unites against hate

Published 9:37 pm Thursday, August 17, 2017

Suffolk Presbyterian Church on North Broad Street opened its doors Thursday evening in response to the violence and hate that besieged Charlottesville last weekend. The congregation extended an open invitation to all Suffolk citizens to join their service, regardless of background or denomination.

“There needs to be more nights like this, where we open our doors and invite our neighbors to join us, and share our feelings and our thoughts,” said Suffolk Presbyterian Church Pastor Rev. Julie Sterling. “I think it’s a good start.”

Hundreds of torch-carrying white nationalists marched through the University of Virginia campus on Friday. On Saturday, clashes between alt-right protestors and counterprotesters filled the city’s streets.

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Heather Heyer, 32, died when a car drove into a group of counterprotesters.  Virginia state troopers Berke M.M. Bates and Lt. H. Jay Cullen died in the crash of their helicopter, which was monitoring the rally.

Attendees at a service at Suffolk Presbyterian Church on Thursday evening grasp hands during prayer. The service was planned in response to the violence in Charlottesville last weekend.

More than two dozen arrived from different churches and locales in Suffolk, and some from Isle of Wight County. They sang “Amazing Grace” while they prayed for those who suffered.

Candles at the service were lit for both the guilty and the innocent. Sterling, however, made it clear she doesn’t support freedom of expression at the expense of hurting another person.

“We’ve seen young men and women who hate, and who are too young and lived too little a life to hate like they do,” she said to those at the service.

Attendees took turns with a microphone to share their thoughts about what happened. Some appealed for more communication to traverse any differences between people.

“I don’t think we listen at all anymore to each other,” Main Street United Methodist Pastor Myrtle Hatcher said.

Suffolk resident James Somers held the microphone to talk about greeting citizens of different races with positive conversations.

“We’re a diverse nation, and we need to be open and available,” Somers said.

There was a resounding agreement that churches in Suffolk need to work together and act against any growing hatred and discrimination in their communities.

“We just need to support one another,” said St. Andrew Presbyterian Church Pastor Leigh Gillis. “Denomination is not important.”

Covenant Community Church Pastor Harold McPherson spoke about his father’s scars. His father had marched in his own time and against the same kind of hate seen in Charlottesville. He had been beaten while protecting women who were marching alongside him.

McPherson said God is love and diversity was His design. This hate did not belong to Him.

“In the final analysis, we are going to discover that heaven is a very diverse place,” McPherson said. “But there are no haters there.”

A peace walk is planned this Saturday in support of Deandre Harris, a 20-year-old Suffolk native who was brutally beaten by white supremacists while protesting in Charlottesville.

The “Justice for Dre Peace Rally” will start at 6 p.m. — a change from the previously announced time of 7 p.m., after consulting with the police department, according to organizer Imari Griffin — outside City Hall on West Washington Street. Marchers will walk down West Washington to Main Street, ending at Market Park by the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum.