Roughly 100 hearty souls lined one side of Memorial Bridge in Augusta on Wednesday night to “to light up Augusta with hope and love.” They were gathered for a candle-light vigil meant to promote a more civil political and public discourse sponsored by the Capital Area Multi Faith Association and the Winthrop Area Ministerial Association. I had interviewed Rev. Carie Johnsen prior to the event and had the wonderful opportunity to meet her and some of her fellow clergy when I went to check it out.
The atmosphere was terrific — uplifting, even. The attendees were a wonderful mix of ages and beliefs, all smiling and friendly in spite of the bite in the air. Some carried signs with messages of hope and love and welcome, and there was quite a bit of mingling and socializing going on as passing cars honked support.
Johnsen and her colleagues were “thrilled” with the turnout and rattled off a list of participating groups and denominations that included: Unitarian Universalists, Methodists, Quakers, Jews, Muslims, Congregationalists, United Church of Christ members, as well as representatives from a veterans group, Augusta state Rep. Donna Doore, and Dale McCormick from the Augusta City Council. I chimed in that I was raised Catholic, and they cheered the idea of yet another denomination represented.
At that point I was surrounded by a half dozen or so spiritual leaders who were fun-loving enough to laugh when my irreverent side got ahead of me, and I made a one-liner about being the black sheep in the circle. More seriously, we talked about the importance of changing our societal conversation — how people seem hungry for a more positive dialogue.
Attendees, who came from as far as Auburn and Bangor, were given a couple of handouts. One included five suggestions for “simple acts to make a difference,” like sending thank you letters to teachers or health-care providers, hosting a winter neighborhood event, and taking the time to meet and greet Muslim neighbors.
Another handout was a calendar for January 2016 that offers daily suggestions for personal and spiritual development. They are the kind of prompts from which we could probably all benefit: mend a quarrel, search out a forgotten friend, listen, encourage youth, apologize if you are wrong, laugh a little more.
When I had first interviewed Johnsen, I had asked if she had any sense about how Muslim families were being treated in our area. At the vigil she told me she had checked in with one of her Muslim contacts who reported that area residents treated his family quite well, and he did not fear for their safety at all. Rev. Jane McIntyre and I agreed that that was what we’d expect to hear — both agreeing that Mainers, by and large, don’t judge based on color or creed.
And portraying Mainers fairly with regard to their views on race and ethnicity is important to me. People make a big deal about Maine being the whitest state in the country, as if that equates to being the most racist state in the country; and that’s just not fair. I consider myself blessed to have been raised in this white state whose people have been so good to me over the years.
Standing on the bridge in the cold surrounded by sparkling lights, happy chatter and honking horns was a nice reminder of that truth.