After a week of tragedy and racial tensions, Sunday church services gave people a place to talk about it, especially within black congregations in the Seattle area
KUOW's Liz Jones visited the morning service at Mount Calvary Christian Center in Seattle’s Central District.
Woman: "Amen. Aren’t you glad you’re in the land of the living?"
This simple message, and the music, pulled everyone to their feet. People offered up thanks, just to be alive and to be together, in this church at 23rd and Union, in Seattle’s historically black neighborhood.
As the song played out, the hundred or so people swayed together. An elderly black woman shook hands with a white man who’d just come in the door. A mother hugged her teenage son close.
A logjam of tears and emotions flowed freely. And it was loud.
Woman: "Thank you, thank you, thank you ..."
In time, pastor Reggie Witherspoon took the pulpit.
Witherspoon: “I want to talk from this subject: Doing right when you’ve been wronged.”
Witherspoon grew up in this neighborhood. He doesn’t shy away from controversy. He took heat years ago for his position against same-sex marriage.
But on this day, his message focused on one thing: How to bring people together to fight racism.
Witherspoon: "This is a very unsettling time in America. You need to wake up and be honest with that. America is going in the wrong direction.”
He said violence is never the answer; not from the police, or against them.
He leaned on some lyrics from Marvin Gaye to make his point, on a lighter note.
Witherspoon (singing the last few lines): “He says, ‘Don’t punish me with brutality.’ I wish I could sing that song. ‘Come on talk to me, so we can see, what’s going on.'”
Specifically, what’s going on around racism and gun violence.
Witherspoon urged people to take action on those two fronts. He suggested people push lawmakers for changes on gun control and police accountability, and for everyone to keep up the conversation on race.
Witherspoon: "I’ve got a lot of white pastors, they’ve asked me, ‘What can I do about all these racial issues?’ I say, 'You’ve got to get up on your pulpit and address it!'”
The service ends with a prayer.
Witherspoon: "Sometimes it takes tragedy to wake us up. God, would you please help us to not have to grieve any more tragedy?"
Rachel Cox and her husband were among the few white people at Mount Calvary. Their bus driver invited them and this was their first visit.
Cox said the service made her think about efforts she can make in her own life.
Cox: “Raising our children with people who are different than us is super important. That’s an action I can take. Just us immersing ourselves in different cultures in our own city is an action I can take.”
Church member Ricco Golden appreciated that idea.
Golden: "That definitely will help. Because in all reality, it is kind of like in the black community we feel that white people tend to not accept us for who we are.”
He said this past year, and week, has raised his fear for his own life as a young black man.
Golden: "It was maybe a moderate, then high level, now it's an extreme level."
Tiara Atkins, 25, said she can relate.
Atkins: “It really broke my heart. I think after I watched so many videos I was really crying because I thought about, ‘What if this happens to my brothers?’ My brothers are my world. I just can’t imagine that."
Atkins wants to see a safer world for her brothers and other young people. She plans to be a high school teacher someday.
But for now, she just wants to share a message with her white friends. It boils down to this: "We need your support. And we need it now."