October 24, 2016 11:56PM
By Mary Ellen Godin - Record Journal staff
MERIDEN — One speaker marched for civil rights in the 1960s, another comforted a community after the Sandy Hook shooting, and another led his congregation in forgiveness for a man who shot bullets into their mosque.
About 50 people, mostly interfaith clergy members, attended a rally against violence Sunday afternoon at the Meriden Green. Braving strong winds, speakers from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths called upon each other and the community to “Be a Voice Not an Echo” and unite against all types of violence.
“According to the FBI, only a few hundred justified shootings take place every year,” said the Rev. Matthew Crebbin, senior pastor of Newtown Congregational Church. “But there are 30,000 gun deaths every year. Yet we still believe the myth that somehow we are safer with a gun. We are often enamored by the dry and barren landscape of the status quo. The tears we cry will become a river of common purpose.”
In the days following the shooting of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Crebbin hosted a televised service for the traumatized community and nation. He has since embarked on a journey meeting with survivors and battling those who oppose “common sense” gun legislation.
Peggy Busari, of New Gethesmane Church, recalled marching for equal rights at age 13, after a Howard Johnson restaurant denied them seating.
“We wanted to be served like the other race,” Busari said. In the South, you’re faced with it (violence) every day. It saddens me we are still fighting the same battle we did then.”
But there are signs of progress, she said.
“We said in our time we would not have a black president. But we did,” Busari said. “It means hope is still alive.”
Sunday’s event was organized by the Meriden Clergy Association with the Rev. Bruce Miller, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Meriden, officiating. The leaders and members of their congregations and the public met at the south end of the Meriden Green for a walk across the Silver City Bridge and on to the ampitheater.
“We have all experienced violence in one form or another,” Miller said. “Today the first step is literally walking together on the bridge as a symbol. This is where we are now. The other side is the better community we can envision for ourselves.”
Other speakers included the Rev. Doreen Bottone, Rabbi Michael Kohn and the Rev. Jan Carlsson-Bull.
Deputy Mayor Michael Cardona and City Councilor Miguel Castro told the crowd that the city supports the group’s commitment.
“There is a fine line between courage and cowardice,” said Bishop John Selders Jr., pastor of Amistad United Church of Christ in Hartford and founder of Moral Monday Connecticut, a group aimed at bringing attention to police injustice.
“Something ain’t quite right in our streets,” Selders said. “The safety of my family is the same as the safety of your family. We live with it, knowing some people’s lives have value, others have less value. We need to be in the dialogue.”
Imam Miyan Zahir Muhammad Mannan offered a prayer in Arabic and English that helped guide his congregation to forgiveness last year when neighbor Ted Hakey shot several bullets into the Baitul Aman mosque in South Meriden. No one was in the mosque at the time. But in a remarkable gesture of forgiveness, members of the mosque accompanied Hakey before the judge so he could apologize to the congregation. Hakey was convicted and served six months in federal prison, but he remained committed to combating Islamophobia.
“I see a mini-Jerusalem here with one major difference,” Mannan said. “Instead of erecting dividing walls, we are transforming them into unifying bridges of understanding and togetherness in prayer and action. Many among the ignorant blame religion for war and fighting whereas our faiths teach us to unite in peace-loving unity as siblings. It is man, not religion, that is the culprit for violence.”