In an effort to foster a multiracial and multi-ethnic connection between individuals in the community, approximately 100 people from the Orangeburg area gathered on the cold afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 7, at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church to watch the movie "Selma," eat a light supper and share in table conversation following the movie.

The participants came from seven congregations – Bamberg UMC Circuit (Bethel and Mt. Zion), North Orangeburg UMC, Orangeburg Lutheran, St. Andrew's UMC, St. Paul’s UMC and Williams Chapel AME. A few invited friends also attended.

The event’s origins began when the pastors of the churches met a year ago to consider how to bring their congregations together to witness to our unity in Christ and build relationships in order to improve our community and build a more just and loving community for all. They decided to sponsor a midday worship service followed by a simple soup luncheon during the Wednesdays of Lent. The services and meals were wonderfully received. People asked to do more activities together.

Other events have followed including: a joint worship service with a mass choir to remember the Emmanuel Nine, the pastors visiting local community projects together, serving at a local soup kitchen and holding a joint “Blue Christmas” service held on the year's “darkest night," Dec. 21.

The viewing of "Selma" together was possibly more controversial, in that it directly addressed the issue of race. "Selma" is a 2014 historical drama film based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. and others. Still, as Iris Rheney, a member of St. Andrew’s said, “This was one of our goals from Forward Focus - to reach out into the community to those we don't interact with daily and help meet their needs. That is what God calls us to do.” The pastors of the seven co-operating congregations agreed it is something we all wanted to do together.

The facilitator for the event was Rev. Leroy Cannon, pastor of Christ Mission, ELCA Lutheran, in North Columbia. As its response to the massacre of the Emanuel Nine, the S.C. Synod of the ELCA has purchased the license to show "Selma." It has also developed resources to help people of different racial backgrounds engage in conversation from a Christian perspective about how to improve race relations in our communities. Cannon has led more than 50 similar meetings all over South Carolina.

The response to the event was overwhelmingly positive. Responses, including lessons from the movie, were:

  • “We need to have more conversations like this.”
  • “We cannot just come to church; we have to go out in the community.”
  • “We are all stronger when we stand together.”
  • “The system has to work for everyone, not just for those in the church, but for everyone.”
  • “If ever I’ve seen a ‘God thing’ – tonight was it! It was awesome.”

In one of the small group breakout sessions held after viewing the movie, a participant asked why no one who had been involved in all the violence and killing depicted in the movie was ever brought to justice. One of the other members replied, “It took a long time, but several of them were brought to justice. Fifteen years ago, the newly elected U.S. senator from Alabama, Doug Jones, was U.S. attorney for Alabama. He tried two of the KKK members charged with killing the Sunday school children at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and won a conviction.”

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

The organizers of the event were blessed as well. As one of the pastors said, “This is not an ending point. This is something God is calling us to build upon. Progress has been made in the past 50 years, but God is still leading us forward in paths of unity, healing, forgiveness, justice and reconciliation.”

If other congregations and clergy in the community would like to become a part of the work that has been begun by these seven congregations, they can contact one of the pastors involved: Rev. Arthur Rose Jr., Rev. Dwight Nelson, Rev. James B. Vigen, Rev. Robert Cannon, Rev. Carol Cannon, Rev. Will Harper, or Rev. Stanley Rivers.

Rev. Carol R. Cannon is co-pastor of St. Andrew's United Methodist Church on Columbia Road in Orangeburg.

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