Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Prayer vigil serves as on-ramp for Christians on a journey of discernment

Louisville nonprofits host interfaith event to help dismantle structural racism

by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service

Chandra Irvin of Interfaith Paths to Peace opens a prayer vigil held at a Louisville park June 7. (Photo by Mark Hebert)

LOUISVILLE — Count on a former architect to see the flaws in existing structures and work tirelessly and faithfully on ways to redesign them.

Such was the compelling draw for the Rev. Dwain Lee, pastor of Springdale Presbyterian Church, when an invitation to endorse an upcoming interfaith prayer vigil in Louisville’s Central Park came across his virtual desk.

“This was one of those once-in-a-generation moments where people across a wide variety of faith traditions could converge around this one topic, dismantling structural racism, on which we all agree,” said Lee, who operated his own architectural firm for 20 years before pursuing a call to ordained ministry. “We have to get a handle on racism and white supremacy.”

The June 7 event, which was hosted by two local nonprofit organizations, Interfaith Paths to Peace and Sowers of Justice Network, was organized to seek “racial justice for our city and a re-dedication of our faith values to work for a more just society,” especially in the wake of the recent killings here of Breonna Taylor by police and David McAtee by the Kentucky National Guard.

Although the vigil’s organizers had originally planned to lead the attendees around the park, stopping periodically to meditate and pray, because attendance at the event far exceeded the organizers’ expectations, everyone instead stood in place.

At one point, participants recalled the May 25 killing of George Floyd in excruciating detail.

“Perhaps the most powerful part of the gathering was the moment of silence for the length of time that George Floyd was being suffocated,” Lee said. “During that entire time, just imagining Floyd in agony — gasping, begging to breathe, during that entire time — was gut-wrenching. In the church, we often think about time in terms of hundreds, thousands of years; and we think about the kin-dom of God spanning the ages. At the vigil, I was reminded that eternity could be eight minutes and 46 seconds.”

Members and clergy from Springdale Presbyterian Church attended the June 7 prayer vigil held at a Louisville park. From let to right in the foreground are John Fischbach, Debbie Martin-Herrell, Lisa Hebert and the Rev. Dwain Lee. (Photo by Mark Hebert)

Lee, who said that he has felt for many years “a particular draw to social justice issues,” also knew that not everyone in the 275-member congregation was in the same place.

“Springdale is like any other Presbyterian church,” he said. “There is a broad spectrum of where folks are in their ability to discuss racism and white privilege. Knowing that this was a faith-based event — and knowing that many people are on the same page and understand the issues, while others are in a different place — made this a good on-ramp for people in that latter stage of discernment.”

Although Lee’s interest in inclusiveness in both church and society emerged from his own particularity as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it extends to advocating for inclusivity across a broad spectrum of issues.

“It is personally important to me — and not just me — if I am a person in ministry to find an appropriate way to speak to the congregation in such a way that they are challenged without being threatened or terrified,” he said.

Since the prayer vigil, Lee has been working with the church’s Mission Committee and its Session to build on the momentum of Sunday’s prayer vigil by offering a variety of congregational activities, including a forthcoming conversation around the documentary, “Race: The Power of an Illusion.” He hopes that such opportunities for study and dialogue will lay the groundwork for “more involvement in concrete things.” Springdale already accepted the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation.

“There are a few things we can do,” he said. “We can provide water and power bars and other supplies to demonstrators. We can show up to keep this moving forward.”

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.