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State College Peace Churches React To Recent Shootings

Becca DeGregorio
Sunday's "Meeting for Peace" brought together representatives of State College Friends Meeting, University Mennonite Church, University Baptist & Brethren Church and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Centre County.

Nearly 30 State College church representatives and community members gathered to discuss peace-keeping at a meeting Sunday, which fell less than a week after the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers.

Mennonites, Quakers, Baptists, Unitarian Universalists and others filled a sunlit room at the State College Friends Meeting where Marjorie Nelson of Foxdale Village Retirement Community sat in a pew at the front with her homemade sign.

“On Wednesday and Thursday, I had seen on television the horrible videos of the two African American men who were shot by policeman," Nelson said. "Then, on Friday morning when my radio woke me up, I heard about the 12 white policeman in Dallas that had been shot, and I said ‘Oh, God, what should I be doing?’ So, I made this sign. Its says ‘Black lives matter. Cops' lives matter. We are all God’s children.’"

Cynthia Merriwether-de Vries lives in State College, teaches sociology at Juniata College and attends the Quaker Church. She shared her thoughts as the only African-American women present, saying that before we go about mending race relations in America, we need to get to know one another on a small scale.

“We are not all the same, and we need to be willing to admit that and be vulnerable," said Merriwether-de Vries. "I don’t know a whole lot about every other culture, and it is my guess that lots of people don’t know about my culture. I’m willing to talk about it if you ask.”

Originally from Congo, Fidele Lumeya is a consultant on peace-building issues and attends the University Mennonite Church. He agrees individuals should not rely on institutions to make peace happen.

“Nobody can impose people to live in peace," said Lumeya. "It seems like we have the government, we have the big entity to get involved in our lives, yet when there are issues, conflicts, violence we call them to come. We cannot be sending a conflicting message. We have to know what we can do ourselves and what the state, or the other entity, can be doing.”

Ben Wideman is the pastor for 3rd Way Collective, a campus ministry connected to University Mennonite that is focused on social justice. He said he hopes conversations on peace-keeping can move forward beyond meetings like these.

“I’ve heard a couple people candidly say to me, 'I hope we can move beyond speaking to action,'" said Wideman. "I wonder if something will come out of this that is more forward and active rather than just sitting in a room and talking about peace.”

As for finding peace in the context of tragedies like last week's shootings, Merriwether-de Vries agreed that a new tactic is necessary.

“Maybe it’s time for something different," said Merriwether-de Vries. "Maybe it’s time for us to get to know one another and to work together and to really build that community of love that all those peace activists talked about in the 60s. I don’t know if that’s the solution, but I’m willing to try that because all the other stuff we’ve tried hasn’t worked a whole lot.”