St. Peter’s Weekly Prayer Vigil Promotes Tolerance, Civility
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The importance of community and civility were two themes at a candlelight prayer vigil for the nation at St. Peter’s Chelsea last week.
“There’s been a lot coming out of Washington,” Reverend Stephen Harding told Chelsea Now before the vigil began. “It’s very easy to feel isolated, so providing space for those in our neighborhood to come together, hopefully that isolation decreases.”
Harding, who has been with St. Peter’s Chelsea for about three years, noted that Episcopalians strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.
“President [Donald] Trump’s executive order banning Muslims, and Steve Bannon calling the media the opposition party, set me over the edge,” he explained about why he is starting the weekly vigil. “We as church can’t keep silent; we have to do something.”
The first vigil took place Thurs., Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the church (346 W. 20th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.), and Harding said they would continue having a vigil at the same time and day until further notice.
Again referring to his faith, Harding noted Episcopalians try to find a middle road, and if Trump came to the church, he would bemore than welcome. He said there is space for both sides.
“This [vigil] is not an anti-Trump, anti-Republican [vigil],” Harding said. “It’s an attempt to address this time in our country.”
Harding said he remembers growing up and watching NBC’s long-running news program, the “Huntley-Brinkley Report” (1956-1970), and when President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke about opponents or issues, it wasn’t mean spirited.
“I’m not seeing that anymore,” Harding said. “It’s like, ‘Our way or you’re trash.’ One of the things in our country, we seem to demonize people who don’t agree with us. With that, we’ve lost civility.”
He added, “One of the things the church can model is to see a person we disagree with as a person.”
Harding started the vigil by emphasizing that that the intent was to pray for the country, and to learn how we can respect one another while still disagreeing.
In addition to Harding, Melissa Morgenweck, a parishioner, led prayers and read a psalm. The prayers were for the president, Congress, judges and other leaders, calls for justice and peace, and for those who had been affected by recent presidential orders and decisions. Brandon Snook sang several songs, including “Amazing Grace,” with Greg Zelek accompanying him on the piano.
At one point, Harding lit his candle, and Morgenweck and others helped light the candles of those attending the vigil. There was also a moment of silence for reflection and prayer.
Before the vigil began, Marnie Joyce, 45, told Chelsea Now that she has been having conversations with Harding. She works nearby as an operations manager for the Atlantic Theater Company (336 W. 20th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.).
“I think that right now finding ways to connect with the community around us is what is going to keep us moving forward,” Joyce said about attending the vigil.
For Henry Tuell, a seminary student at General Theological Seminary (on W. 20th St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), recent moves by the administration have spurred him to protest, pray and attend vigils.
“As a Christian, I believe it’s my calling to show up for those in need, for those who are scared or threatened,” Tuell, 44, said.
Anytime people can get together and pray, it is an opportunity to help us feel connected to each other, he said.
Afterwards, Whittnie Daniels, 34, said she has been anxious, and the vigil was positive and not demonizing.
“I didn’t realize things were going to turn that quickly,” Daniels noted of recent executive orders. “It’s scary not to see accountability.”
Matthew Menzies, 23, works in the neighborhood and is an Episcopalian. He noted that the core of the religion is inclusivity and collaboration.
“It’s not about politicizing, it’s about having a space where everyone can come together,” Menzies said, noting that St. Peter’s is a welcoming church.
For Joe Nicholson, 59, a St. Peter’s parishioner, the vigil was necessary, and he said God and prayer have a role to play. Nicholson said he hopes more people come to the vigils.
Harding said that the people in his congregation have been scared, uncertain and anxious. “The parish may move more into social activism,” he said. “What we do makes a difference.”