After the Mosque Shooting in Christchurch, NZ

I posted this on FB and it was widely shared:

As we ate supper last night, Doug and I talked about the mosque attack, and I wondered aloud if?All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), our local mosque was having a service of some kind. We checked online, and a vigil had just begun. So I quickly threw on my clergy collar and off we went. Neither of us grabbed our phones, and I had not a stitch of makeup on.

At the prayer room we removed our shoes and went through separate entrances. The prayer room was full to overflowing. Many people stood along the wall in the front, and remarks were just beginning. I found a spot on the floor. But a woman brought me a chair and insisted I take it, which I did, because other women were in chairs as well. Then another woman whispered in my ear that I should go stand in front and say something “if the Spirit moved.” I thanked her, but declined.

I was impressed at how well the service flowed, very expedited. The atmosphere was very warm and congenial and the Spirit was present. Everyone clapped as each person was introduced, and again when they concluded their remarks. No one abused their moment to speak. People briefly shared prayers, referenced scripture, often Isaiah 43, or MLK and the arc of justice, or talked about equality and solidarity, how we are all children of God, how this is an attack on all humanity.

The woman came back to urge me to go forward. She said it was good for everyone to see another faith leader. She told me where to stand. So I went forward because it seemed impolite to refuse. The woman asked me to text the leader my name and church affiliation and I couldn’t because I didn’t even have my reading glasses. So I handed her my business card. A few minutes later, I heard my name announced. Suddenly I had a microphone in my hand. The prayer room looked quite different from the front than from the back. Instead of a sea of head coverings it was a sea of eyes. On one side of the divider were the women, on the other the men. Children present throughout the room.

I said “As-Salaam-Alaikum” and everyone responded “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.” That greeting felt like putting ground under my feet.

I said, “I am your neighbor, I live here in Sterling. The church I serve is across the river in Bethesda, but I am your neighbor. I am embarrassed that it has taken this for me to come and meet you and introduce myself. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God above all and your neighbor as yourself. And we are neighbors. My heart breaks for these deaths. We are all children of God. So I share this prayer with you. May God go before you to guide you. May God go beneath you to support you. May God go behind you to protect you. May God go above you to bless you. Amen.”

I was the last clergy and then the civic leaders began. When all the remarks were over — an hour start to finish — there was a very brief prayer in Arabic. As people left, many women reached out to shake my hand and thank me for being there. It was an honor, I said, and meant it. I marveled at the power of a square of white cloth on the black band around my neck.

Now I must follow up and actually become a neighbor.


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