Many readers will recall the work that was begun among the churches last November at our Summit to Overcome Violence. Sponsored by the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, the Baptist Ministers Alliance and the Faith Community Alliance, 200 people came together at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church around the theme, “Raise Up the Foundations of Many Generations.”
A core group from American Baptist, National Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, Unitarian, Quaker and Pentecostal representatives has guided the process since then. Our “Coalition for Community Standards” sponsored eight forums over the winter and spring at Antioch Baptist Church, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Genesee Baptist Church, Third Presbyterian Church, Lake Avenue Baptist Church, Monroe County Jail, Aenon Baptist Church and School Without Walls. At each forum we sought to uncover the strength and good work both present and potential in our city.
Some 500 people attended one or more of these forums. At each forum we heard testimonies from people directly affected by violence. Their stories brought home the circles of suffering that radiate from each act of violence. Then, small groups considered four questions:
1. What contributes to violence?
2. What can we do and are we doing already to address the problem?
3. What do we expect of the police, government, schools and churches?
4. What community standards do we need to lift up?
We kept extensive records of each forum.
Additionally, we met with Police Chief David Moore, appeared both on television and radio to gather feedback, and continue to monitor what is happening.
We believe that any lasting solution to the problem of violence must draw upon the strength of the broad community of the Rochester region. We discovered a multitude of groups, initiatives, programs and insights. We are amazed at the strength that exists here. Over the summer we have been organizing the 775 responses to our questions that the people offered.
Our goal is to call the community back together and report back to you what we believe you said to us. If the people agree that we have heard them correctly, we will take the next steps to offer the community standards for general support. These standards will apply equally to all members of the community.
The violence that breaks our hearts is a wound springing from many sources. It is our shared wound, and to confront it will call forth our best thinking and deepest compassion. We believe that every shot that rings out in our neighborhoods, every cry for help to 911 is calling us to reconsider what it really means to be a people who care. We believe that as Christians we must follow the peaceful teachings of Jesus. We believe that the roots of real change still nourish the spirit of Rochester and “Raise Up the Foundations of Many Generations.”
The Rev. Richard Myers is president of the Greater Rochester Community of Churches, and the Rev. Roy Hedman is president of Baptist Ministers Alliance.