In the aftermath of the massacre of nine black people in a Charleston church last month at the hands of a white racist, the Rev. Steve Bishop went to a unity rally in Charleston.
What the pastor of Chester Freedom Ministries saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears and felt with his own heart was love, hope and forgiveness of thousands of people – black and white.
And when the Rev. LeMar Foster, pastor of Chester’s Union Baptist Church watched the Confederate battle flag removed from the Statehouse grounds in Columbia on Friday in a move toward South Carolina unity, the two church leaders had a good talk.
They decided Chester needs that unity, too.
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The two churches – one mostly black, one mostly white – will join forces Wednesday for an evening of praise, love and celebration of shared community. It will be called the Chester Community Unity Service.
There are no invitations, because all 33,000 people in Chester County are invited.
“The time has come for action in Chester, for those of us who truly ... want Chester County to stand together,” Foster said. “I volunteer in the juvenile arbitration program. I know there is a gang problem, a crime problem with some of our young people. Black churches, black people, we cannot do it alone. White churches can’t do it without us. Law enforcement, the courts, they try, but they can’t do it all.
“But together, we can.”
Many have asked what communities will do now that the forgiveness and grace of the Charleston victims’ families led to the Confederate battle flag’s removal, Foster said. Chester has a chance to be a leader in the state by showing that the aftermath of the shootings and the peaceful removal of the flag can help people grow and prosper.
In light of what happened in Charleston, Bishop said, “the timing is perfect and right” for neighbors to stand together rather than apart. The pastors have invited Chester County’s top leaders – Sheriff Alex Underwood and County Supervisor Shane Stuart, among others – but on Wednesday night, all are equal.
“There will be no titles, no politics, no agendas other than togetherness,” Bishop said.
The two pastors say Chester County in the past year has seen the very worst – the killing of City Councilman Odell Williams, allegedly in a gang shooting – and the best – Underwood’s embrace of a Pennsylvania boy brought to Chester for a hunting trip. Chester County has also been buoyed by the construction of a Giti Tire plant that will employ about 2,000 people.
“We have seen tears of joy and tears of despair,” Foster said. “The nation has seen Chester cry and Chester cheer.”
The service Wednesday will include musicians and singers from both churches, as well as both congregations – but the goal is not for just two sets of church people to mingle.
“This is more than two church groups,” Foster said. “This is a start of something bigger – the real unifying of the community.” Foster said.
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065
Want to go?
What: Chester Community Unity Service
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Chester Freedom Ministries, 729 Village Drive, Chester
Who’s invited: All Chester County residents