By Kara Witherow, Special Contributor…
In a years-long election cycle filled with vitriol, rancor, discord and divisiveness, voters quickly grew weary of the partisan politics that dominated airwaves, conversations, Facebook feeds and daily discussions.
But with its Day of Prayer and Unity, Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon, Ga., sought to come together as a church and a community one day after the 2012 election, on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
With its sanctuary open for prayer at 8 a.m., the church was a quiet refuge for those looking to escape the political noise outside the doors.
“The purpose of this day was to offer a space for Christians to come and pray for the nation and also to pray for unity after a divisive election season,” said the Rev. Ben Gosden, Mulberry Street UMC associate pastor.
While many churches were open for prayer on Monday or Election Day itself, Mr. Gosden said that Mulberry Street UMC wanted to be open for prayer and communion the day after the election to help people focus on what is truly important and to help them remember that God is in control.
“We have a pretty blended congregation in terms of political views, and with media and social media you learned early on in the election that people were very passionate, and especially in our church, they were passionate on both sides,” Mr. Gosden said. “So we asked what we could do around the election and . . . we decided that it would be nice to do something the day after Election Day when the results were in and when everything was done, as a reminder that we are Christians in the end and that we pray for unity.”
For people who wanted guided prayer, the church provided a liturgy, some of which Mr. Gosden and other Mulberry Street UMC pastors had written, other parts of which had been borrowed. The centering prayer is an old United Methodist prayer; Mr. Gosden wrote a unity prayer; and a prayer for the nation was written by Bishop Ken Carter and customized by Mr. Gosden.
At 5:15 p.m. the church family came together for a service of Holy Communion. A reminder of what worshippers have in common, the service was an important re-enactment of the Gospel drama, Mr. Gosden noted.
“Communion is the meal of unity,” he said. “In the liturgy we say, ‘Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world,’ so it very much is a meal of unity.”
Like many others, Mulberry Street UMC member Carol Head had become discouraged with the divide among Democrats and Republicans.
“I had become quite discouraged in the last months with all the bitterness and all the hatefulness that we’ve heard in the airwaves and was quite confused as to how we respond as Christians because a lot of this we were hearing was coming from people who claim to be Christians,” she said. “I was really glad that our offering for a time of prayer and worship was shaped more around coming together afterward rather than before.”
Mr. Gosden said the church recognizes people’s hurts and frustrations and the Day of Prayer and Unity is one of its ways of responding.
“People were daily talking about the candidate they don’t like, they’re unfriending each other [on Facebook]. It was harsh, and it’s hard to unplug once you’re locked into that cycle,” he said. “There’s lots of hatred. There’s lots of frustration, a lot of hurt, a lot of feelings, and we all feel it. The church can and should respond to people’s frustrations. We meet every Sunday and talk about Bible stories, and we talk about church programs, but it gets easy for us as a church to do a lot of navel gazing and worry about programs, while we have people who are living daily lives frustrated and struggling. This was really a witness and a reminder for us as a church that we have a duty to respond when people are hurting.”
The day also served as a reminder that, no matter who is elected or what party is in power, no one person on earth has the power to save.
“The sad thing is that . . . people turn to politics for salvation,” Mr. Gosden said. “They think that if we elect the right person, my life will get better . . . if we put the right party in office then everything will be all right. It’s really a prophetic witness to say, ‘Your salvation lies beyond your politics.’”
Ms. Head said the prayer time and service of Holy Communion were very centering experiences for her and helped her focus on what’s truly important.
“When we get drawn into those crazy political discussions we have a tendency to forget whose we are, and I think it’s really important that we remember that in all of our relationships, in all of our interactions,” she said. “We are going to be OK as long as we keep our eyes and keep our direction turned toward God.”
Ms. Witherow is editor of the Advocate, the newspaper of the South Georgia Conference, where this article first appeared.