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Day of Service brings out volunteers for cleanup and conversation

Faith communities in Buffalo gather for the Week of Action finale

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

On Sunday members of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church, which are both in Buffalo, New York, visited Martin Luther King Jr. Park to hold a cleanup for the Day of Service, the final event in the Presbyterian Week of Action. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Week of Action concluded with a Day of Service on Sunday that prompted youths and families from two churches in Buffalo, New York to gather for a park cleanup.

People from Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church converged at Buffalo’s Martin Luther King Jr. Park after following various events that the PC(USA) hosted or streamed online for the Week of Action, an international effort to affirm the value of Black lives.

To close out the week, churches and mid-councils were encouraged to engage in public service projects of their own choosing.

For example, First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, Pennsylvania, collected gift cards for the Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley. People could donate online or drop off cards at the church to benefit volunteers of the partner organization, which works to improve children’s lives and transform neighborhoods.

Members of an anti-racism task force at First Presbyterian were heartened to see the national church taking a stand by holding the Week of Action and the Day of Service.

“Some of us on the task force were just kind of jumping up and down going, ‘My denomination is doing this!’ We’re not just out in the middle of the field, waving our hands and going, ‘Look at us! look at us!’” said Sheila Clever, who’s part of the task force. That “made me feel like we’re not alone in this. I really appreciated that.”

Over in New York, Pastor Micah Nutter Dowling of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church explained the congregation’s participation this way: “We looked at this Day of Service that the PC(USA) called us to as an opportunity to once again be in solidarity with our siblings of color that are disproportionately affected by forms of violence and oppression every day.”

The intended goal as people of privilege was to “not just lament but repent and that means to turn and move (in) a different direction,” Nutter said.

The park visit and Earth-care initiative was a joint project with his partner, the Rev. Katelyn Nutter Dowling, who brought members of the young adult ministry of Westminster, where she is an associate pastor. Lafayette’s youth ministry also participated, along with the church’s newly formed social justice committee and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

“We hope to do more events like that in the future,” said Micah Nutter Dowling, who found the park visit to be eye-opening for both himself and other participants who were unfamiliar with MLK Jr. Park or being in African American spaces.

The park is on the east side of the city, which currently and historically is an area that has had great poverty, he said, so it was assumed that having a group come through to pick up litter would be helpful. But as it turned out, the park is “absolutely gorgeous” and beloved by the community, with school groups, volunteers and neighbors using their time, effort and energy to keep the park tidy.

So, the park visit ended up “being an educational experience of just presence, of just being there and experiencing the beauty of people enjoying their Sunday afternoon,” he said.

The cleanup was a way to show solidarity with people of color. (Contributed photo)

The group was able to collect a few bags of trash along the periphery of the park. But overall, “it was a great lesson for us in really what’s needed right now,” he said. “Yes, picking up (litter) is great … but maybe what’s needed even more is relationship.”

The event initially was intended primarily for youth and young adults. But families also chose to participate, making it an intergenerational gathering and an opportunity to talk with children about what it means to embody welcome, he said.

“We had conversations in the park that we hope are just the springboard for a lot more interconnectedness with the beautiful park and the communities that are right by our churches but yet we allow divisions in our society to create what the lines will be in church,” he said.

Being willing to go into minority communities and interact with residents is important because privilege is a blind spot, he said.

“There’s so many voices in our head of stories and narratives,” he said, “and when we actually get in relationship those things are refuted.”

Recordings of various Week of Action events, including a Town Hall, Bible studies and rally, can be found here.

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