From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Mainers stand firm against racism in gatherings and vigils across the state

Date Wed, 15 Jan 2003 16:22:00 -0500

January 15, 2003


Episcopalians: Mainers stand firm against racism in gatherings 
and vigils across the state

by Heidi Shott

(ENS) Last November, when the Rev. Larney Otis called upon 
Episcopalians across Maine to saturate the City of Lewiston with 
prayer, she had no idea just how seriously Mainers would take 
her request.

Just days before, city officials gave permission to a white 
supremacist group, World Church of the Creator based in Peoria, 
Illinois, to hold a rally in Lewiston on January 11. Lewiston 
attracted international attention after the widespread reporting 
of an open letter written by Lewiston's mayor Laurier Raymond in 
October.  The inflammatory letter urged the city's growing 
Somali community to discourage other Somalis from moving to 
Lewiston.  He wrote that Lewiston was "maxed-out financially, 
physically and emotionally" and called on the Somalis to 
"exercise discipline."

With that letter, Raymond drew the ire of the Somalis, as well 
as many long-time Lewiston residents, church leaders, and other 
minority communities. He also focused the spotlight of the World 
Church of the Creator and other hate groups, such as the 
National Alliance, and their interest in the nation's whitest 

Otis is priest-in-charge of Trinity Church, a small Episcopal 
congregation in the heart of the city whose Jubilee center 
offers much-needed  services to the city's most needy residents. 
 Almost immediately, Otis and the Rev. Nancy Moore, executive 
director of the Trinity Jubilee Center, joined with other ethnic 
community and religious leaders to plan their response. 

Out of the initial discussions, a coalition called Many and One 
was born, based on the motto "We are Many; We are One." At an 
early meeting, Moore took issue with the name of the white 
supremacist group.  "I want to reclaim the word creator.  The 
Creator didn't create just one color, just one kind or just one 
view of the world.  I want to reclaim the diversity that is 
creation," she said. "In Lewiston, our neighbors are named Abdi, 
and they're named Jose.  We are all a part of this community."

Saturated with prayer

The Many and One Coalition emerged with a plan to hold a 
counter-rally in a gymnasium at Lewiston's Bates College at the 
same time as the hate rally was scheduled at the National Guard 
Armory across town.  Otis, a member of the event's steering 
committee, through email and the diocesan website, urged Maine 
Episcopalians to pray for the people of Lewiston and the fearful 
Somali community and to hold prayer vigils in their own towns 
and cities.  "Our hope is that the Lewiston-Auburn community 
becomes so saturated with prayer and peace that there is no room 
left for hate, fear and violence," she said.

Congregations across the Diocese of Maine took her words to 
heart.	Plans to ring bells in solidarity with the people of 
Lewiston at churches across the state from 8:25 p.m. to 8:30 
p.m. on January 10 began to take shape.  Ecumenical prayer 
vigils in churches and on below-freezing village commons were 
planned.  Delegations from congregations began to arrange 

On Friday evening, January 10, vigils in Lewiston, Bar Harbor, 
Brunswick, Newcastle, Waterville, Southwest Harbor, and other 
communities drew hundreds of people.  On Saturday, January 11, 
people gathered to support the Many and One rally in Episcopal 
churches in neighboring Auburn, Norway, Portland, Camden, 
Rangeley, Falmouth, Windham, York Harbor and others.

The Rev. Anne Stanley, rector of Christ Church in the western 
Maine town of Norway, described their ecumenical event. "We 
showed that Maine's outlying areas believe diversity is 
God-given and makes us strong. What a gathering! Jews, 
Methodists, Baptists, Congregationalists, Unitarians and 
Episcopalians.	We had much laughter, tears and a tremendous 
sense of wanting to be together. We signed a colorful poster 
which we later delivered to the rally."

Germs of hatred and bigotry

In Lewiston, security tightened with more than 150 police from 
Lewiston and neighboring towns stationed around the city and at 
both venues.  Streets around Bates College were closed and 3,000 
folding chairs in the Merrill Gymnasium were fastened together 
to prevent them from being used as weapons.  Before the 1 p.m. 
start time, the gym's seating capacity of 3,200 was filled to 
overflowing with a celebratory crowd enjoying the music of a 
drumming group.  Speakers included the newly elected governor 
John Baldacci, members of the Somali, Latino, African-American, 
Native American, Franco-American, gay and lesbian, Jewish, and 
disabled communities. 

State Attorney General Steven Rowe, who oversees the state's 
enforcement of civil rights, told the crowd his message to hate 
mongers, "You are wasting your time here.  Your germs of hatred 
and bigotry will not live." Rachel Rodrigue, a granddaughter of 
one of the thousands of French-Canadians who came to Lewiston in 
the nineteenth century to work in the textile mills, challenged 
those gathered to remember the importance of the day, "Do you 
remember where you were when a small community in Maine taught 
the world how to live together?" 

A chance to celebrate diversity

Maine Episcopalians were well-represented at the Many and One 
rally.	Henry Male, senior warden of St. Ann's Church in 
Windham, attended the rally with his young daughter Katie and 
his wife Donna.  "We live in a state that, for the most part, 
lacks diversity, so any opportunity to celebrate it should be 
taken.	I want my daughter to learn that." 

The Rev. Larry Estey, vicar of St. Brendan's the Navigator in 
the down-east fishing community of Stonington, drove three hours 
to attend the Many and One rally with several members of his 
congregation.  "We wanted the island and our congregation to be 
represented here and to take back what we experienced," he 

As the rally unfolded local children recited prayers from their 
respective traditions and high school youth told of their 
positive and broadening experiences in making friends with 
students from other ethnic groups.  The entire Maine 
congressional delegation attended as participants.  Noticably 
absent was Lewiston's mayor, Laurier Raymond, who was on 
vacation in Florida.  Hundreds of people sported stickers that 
read, "Where's the Mayor?" or, appropriately for the high 
Franco-American population in Lewiston, "Oy est Le Mayor?"  
Later in the day, Somali leaders gathered on the front steps of 
City Hall to call for his resignation.

Cultural and religious diversity

At least 1,500 people remained outside the gym unable to gain 
entrance.  Despite the cold January temperatures, the outside 
crowd transformed into an event in its own right: from atop 
enormous snow banks they sang civil rights-era songs and waited 
for the speakers from inside to come outside to deliver their 
speeches via blowhorn.	After two and a half hours of speakers 
and music, thousands of Many and One ralliers marched in a 
three-block procession to the city Armory to raise the final 
cheer in support of the Somali community and the future of 
cultural and religious diversity in Lewiston.

Across town, at the heavily police-protected National Guard 
Armory, the World Church of the Creator rally was coming to a 
peaceful, restrained close.  Of the 36 people present at the 
rally, housed in the culinary arts classroom of the armory, most 
arrived with the event's substitute speaker, Jon Fox.  The 
group's leader, Matthew Hale, was arrested in Chicago on January 
8 for soliciting the murder of a federal judge who presides over 
a trademark lawsuit he is involved in.

Outside the armory about 450 protesters and observers gathered, 
both anti-racist and racist sympathizers.  One man was arrested 
after a confrontation with a person trying to enter the 
building.  At the event's close, police whisked those attending 
the rally away in police vans to their cars outside the security 
perimeter without the knowledge of the protesters outside the 
building.  The crowd quietly dispersed.

At the Trinity Jubilee Center, Moore and program staff served 
the regular Saturday meal and provided a haven for anyone who 
wanted a safe place to stay.  After lunch she took a "cold, long 
walk" to the Many and One rally at Bates. "Several people warned 
me along the way that it was full, but I wanted to go and get a 
sense of the atmosphere. It was definitely worth it just to 
stand in the parking lot for a little while. People were 
enjoying music and drumming, talking to one another and just 
being together. I never made it inside the building, but I don't 
feel like I missed a thing," she said.

Otis said later in the day, "I am convinced that events unfolded 
as they did, peacefully and safely, both at Trinity, at the Many 
and One and at the World Church rally in large part because so 
many people were praying for us. Granted that police, city 
officials and the Many and One Coalition worked hard to assure 
the success of the rally, but the prayers coming our way, 
holding us in our work, sustaining us during tense and tiring 
moments, was palpable."


--Heidi Shott is the Communications Officer for the Diocese of 
Maine and editor of the diocesan newspaper, The Northeast

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