On Wednesday, July 22, the Burgess Committee of Grace Episcopal Church will sponsor a Candlelight Prayer Vigil for Reconciliation and Peace at 7:30 pm at Dennis Alley Park, also known as Waban Park, in Oak Bluffs.
The vigil will incorporate non-sectarian prayers for victims of racial violence and racism, prayers for all affected by COVID-19, and prayers for the country as a whole. The event will feature speakers from representative groups on the Island.
Rev. Stephen Harding, the Rector of Grace Church, shared that the goal of the vigil is to bring the community together around racial justice and various other intersecting issues.
The vigil had originally been scheduled for early July.
“In the intervening time, COVID-19 exploded across the country. Unemployment went up, and the benefits are scheduled to run out really soon. Nobody really knows what to do with the schools,” said Rev. Harding. “It just seemed to me that there is so much going on, plus the election. It just seemed to me that there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty, and probably some fear.”
Rev. Harding spoke to the Island community’s shared responsibility to keep each other safe and to support each other in these turbulent times.
“As a destination, we need to be really careful and vigilant to prevent further spread,” he said. “I thought, and continue to think, that what the faith communities offer is prayers. So, my thought then and now, is that we should have a moment and a time to all get together, to take the time to acknowledge what’s going on and what’s going on inside us, and we can do it together. Everyone can come to this and offer a prayer, offer their fear, offer hope. Let’s just come together and support each other.”
The vigil will involve several rounds of non-denominational prayer, as well as opportunities for attendees to speak or offer up prayers of their own. Reverend Harding and Grace Church will also distribute pieces of fabric on which attendees may write their prayers. Attendees may either keep their pieces or may return them to the Church, which will display the collection of prayers outside of Grace Church.
Harding expressed hope that the event can serve as a catalyst for further conversation and care for each other.
“My hope is that this will be one of the building blocks for the Vineyard so that we can move together as people who live here, as people who visit here, as people who love this island,” Rev. Harding said. “Ideally, no matter what happens, we’ll be able to continue to support each other.”
He described mask-wearing as an opportunity for community members to demonstrate consideration and thoughtfulness for each other,
“What happens to one of us happens to all of us. It sounds trite and it may be a cliche, but it’s really true,” Rev. Harding said. “For me, that’s what the masks are about. I’m not doing this to protect me. I’m doing this to protect you, and you are doing this to protect me.”
Masks and social distancing will be worn and observed at the vigil.
The Burgess Committee at Grace Church was established in 1999 in memory of the Rt. Rev. John Burgess, first African American Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA) and his wife, Esther. The committee is dedicated to community and personal education on issues of race, justice, and unity.