Conventional wisdom has it that Seattle isn’t a “churchy” place. In fact, our city has the second highest number of churches per capita of any city in the country. And, although Seattle has plenty of nonaffiliated residents, from my experience as pastor of First AME Church of Seattle, I can say that before COVID-19 disrupted our daily lives, members at our church — like tens of millions around the country — came together weekly in common spaces to celebrate life’s joys and to mourn our losses, together.
From my work as a pastor, I know firsthand the importance of shared mourning, just as I know the potential disastrous effects of unaddressed trauma. The historical Black American experience is one of trauma and re-traumatization, which can easily progress into a deep grief that can freeze us into an isolated state. Moreover, unaddressed trauma can then metastasize this agony into fear, which can turn into anger, rage and ultimately violence. This magnitude of suffering makes us vulnerable to turning against our fellow neighbors and in some cases, even ourselves.
Before October ends, the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 10 months may close in on 250,000 — almost four times the number of Americans who died in the 11 years of the Vietnam War. More than 7 million Americans have contracted the disease, and many are enduring long-term effects. Millions have lost their jobs. Particularly ravaged are vulnerable communities of Black and brown Americans because so many are part of the essential front-line workforce. In my own congregation, I see the effects of these losses, which, coupled with the injustice of continued killings of Black Americans by police, compound this horrific pain.
We see, too, how as the election draws closer, the specter of violence and intimidation grows.
What can we do? What should we do?
As a man of faith, a person who values social justice and wants America to live up to our ideals for democracy, I say we must come together now. We must mourn, and through our shared lament, find unity. That is why at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19, First AME is hosting #MourningIntoUnity interfaith candlelight vigil. The vigil will be held outdoors, with participants masked and socially distanced or attending online. Across our country, faith leaders and medical professionals will lead these #MourningIntoUnity vigils.
We do so because this is our mandate. People united must stand together to see each other’s pain and to share our common humanity as “one nation under God.” In our commitment to do so — across faiths, across races, across political divides, and socio-economic status — we will find strength.
In closing, I share the prayer of my friend, the Rev. James T. Golden, Esq., pastor, Mt. Zion AME Church, Port Tampa, Florida: “I pray that our shared mourning in the ‘nights’ ahead will produce a unity among us that will be a light for everyone, through faith, to see the ‘morning’ joy that is promised by God.”
On Oct. 19, I hope you will join us at First AME of Seattle — either online or in person — along with imams, rabbis, pastors of many Christian denominations, health care professionals, and people of goodwill all around the country.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” Psalms 30:5.