The Rev. Gary Newsome, chaplain at Lake Prince Woods Retirement Community in Suffolk, Va. — part of UCC-related United Church Homes and Services — held an historic meeting of area clergy July 14 on the Lake Prince Woods grounds. In attendance were white pastors from prominent historical churches from varying denominations and prominent African-American clergy from the Suffolk Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (SIMA). The group, calling itself Suffolk Clergy United, met to address the issue of strengthening its local community, understanding the history of division between white and African-American area pastor groups, and answering the question of how both groups can identify obstacles that hinder partnership, and work together to heal those divisions for the greater good of the community.
Newsome and the Rev. Henry Diggs, president of SIMA, co-moderated. The forum was met with enthusiasm and openness. Several commitments and conclusions emerged:
- It will take time and “plowing” to get to know one another.
- The group committed to relationship building, changing hearts, and intentionality.
- The group also will develop a small group prayer for designated churches and their ministries.
- It will continue the tradition of pulpit exchange (interculturally) during the Lenten and Holy Week seasons.
- Suffolk Clergy United also will establish periodic forums to discuss police reform and apprehension tactics in our community.
- It also committed to inviting the local sheriff to attend a future meeting in order to provide information and develop new understandings.
The meeting ended with each clergyperson praying and taking group pictures (with masks on). One clergyperson, who has pastored for more than 20 years in the area, gave a special statement of gratitude because he rehabbed in Lake Prince Wood’s skilled unit for a month. He thanked the facility for the great care he received. On behalf of SIMA, presented Lake Prince Woods with gifts of socks and masks.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success,” said Newsome after the meeting. “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”