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Churches strive to heal hate

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Prayer vigils held in Hillsville after a recent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville claimed life

By Shannon Watkins

HILLSVILLE — Churches in Carroll County united last week to speak out against racism and the rise of white supremacist groups, in the wake of a rally in Charlottesville that broke into violence, leaving one woman dead.

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Hillsville Christian Church hosted a “Prayer Vigil for Peace and Justice” on Aug. 17, led by the Rev. Amanda Hatfield Moore.

The service, which lasted 45 minutes and drew about 80 people, was marked by separate prayers for justice, peace and the community; responsive reading; and a short sermon by Hatfield Moore, ending with communion.

“Racism is not gone from us,” she said. “Racism has never been gone from us. People are devalued, ignored, shut out from safety, security, economic stability, education and a sense of belonging because of the color of their skin. It would be far too disingenuous to say that what happened in Charlottesville is something new.”

The Charlottesville tragedy was sparked by a “Unite the Right” torchlight march, followed by a confrontation the next day between the protesters and the assembled KKK, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups. A man described by police as a Nazi sympathizer drove his car through a crowd of protesters.

Hatfield Moore noted that in recent years, the “brazenness” of racism has grown, and that many voices are saying that “the U.S. belongs to white people if they’re the right kind of white people. Those voices are getting louder.”

She continued, “We are gathered here because we know we must act,” and said that it is important to stand up to white supremacy because “it thrives on silence.”

“We will not be beguiled or forced into living in that world,” she continued. “If racism and white supremacy are repugnant to us, they must always be repugnant to us. No more letting the racist joke, the snide remark, the politically incorrect comment slide by. You will find the strength and unity to build up what was lost in the past.”

There was another, briefer prayer vigil on Aug. 20 at the old Carroll County courthouse in Hillsville, held by the Carroll County Ministerial Association. The event drew about 20 people, assembled on the front lawn, in the shadow of a Confederate monument. The location was poignant, given that the Charlottesville rally was in part driven by debate over removal of a Civil War statue there.

Hatfield Moore said that the gathering was not held at that location in protest, but because “this is just our place. We come here every year for the National Day of Prayer in May, too.”

Preachers from First United Methodist of Hillsville, Bethany Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Hillsville Church of God, Gladeville United Methodist and Mount Olivet United Methodist, Hillsville Christian Church, Coulson Church of the Brethren and the chaplain of the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office were on hand to pray and offer words of wisdom and hope to the small crowd who gathered to participate.

“My heart is broken,” said Jason Holdaway of the sheriff’s office. “I did not think that a time would come when there would be this division.”

He told the story of Jesus calming the storm and expressed his desire that this current strife give way to peace again.

“We are much stronger together than apart,” said the Rev. Daryl Beamer of Bethany Baptist Church said. “We are our brother’s keeper.”

After closing the vigil with a prayer for guidance, Robert Smith of the Carroll County Ministerial Association said that the event was not a protest against the Confederate memorial, but against “violence, hate, and racism.”