Across the Augusta area Sunday, people reacted to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., by holding vigils and worshipping together, calling for an end to hatred and a commitment to spreading a message of peace and love.
About 50 to 60 people gathered in downtown Aiken at the Newberry Fountain, and 50 to 75 came out to the Columbia County Amphitheater. About six people from Augusta’s Unitarian Universalist Church came downtown “to bear witness” to the city’s Confederate Memorial on Broad Street.
The gatherings were organized on social media Sunday, some prompted by a national group called Stand in Solidarity with Charlottesville, others springing up locally as people shared Facebook posts.
In Aiken, there was singing and speeches, including one by Eugene White, president of the Aiken branch of the NAACP.
Two churches in Aiken – predominantly black Greater Faith Fellowship Worship Center and predominantly white Heights Church – held a joint service that had been planned before the Charlottesville violence but gained renewed vigor because of it, said Pastor Mark Canipe of Heights.
“We didn’t do it because of it. We did it in spite of it,” he said. “This is who we are.”
He and Greater Faith’s pastor, Olen Jessie, have been friends since they met at Duke’s Barbecue about 15 years ago, and their churches often worship together. Both men said they wanted to share their belief that racial harmony comes from being friends and working together every day, not just when something bad happens.
“It’s sad that we only come together after a tragedy,” Canipe said. “If we’d been together all along, there would not have been a tragedy.”
“We were already together, praying for each other,” Jessie said.
If something similar to Charlottesville ever happened in the Augusta area, Jessie said, “The pastors will bring black and white together and we would go to war on our knees.”
As the service began – first with Greater Faith’s praise team, then with Heights’ team, then both together on the stage – Canipe’s daughter Courtney Canipe Freeman led a prayer.
“God, we thank you that we are not bound by race … but that we are bound by you.”
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org