EBENSBURG – Art Remillard has seen some of the nation’s hot-button issues split his church down the middle – much like America itself.
Remillard, a member of First United Church of Christ in Ebensburg, said it became all too clear last week as he saw friends and fellow Christians expressing hard-line stances on both sides of the aisle about whether the Confederate flag should be banned from public events in town.
“Right now, locally and nationally we’re talking about what our differences are – what we don’t agree on,” he said Sunday. “And it’s hard to grow together that way.”
On Sunday at Lake Rowena, Remillard gathered under blue skies with approximately 30 fellow Christians from as many as eight different churches across the region to focus on how to change that trend by instead embracing common values.
“In this digital space we all live in right now, it’s easy just to post something (on social media) and you don’t have to worry about the humanity of another person or how it might affect them,” Remillard said of the “Us. vs. Them” social media culture. “You can really lose sight of what it means to listen to one another and have meaningful conversation.”
As the first event sponsored by the upstart Ebensburg Interfaith Alliance, Remillard focused on some of the Bible’s – and life’s – lessons on hospitality.
Members of two Ebensburg churches, First United Church of Christ and Lakeside Community Church of the Nazarene, helped to organize and promote the event.
Attendees were split up into small groups and shared stories with one another about times someone they didn’t know came to their aid or welcomed them with open arms when they were in a unfamiliar place or situation. They were also asked to recall a time they did the same for someone else.
Remillard pointed to a story within the book of Genesis where a nearly 100-year-old Abraham rushed to feed and befriend a group of strangers who came to his tent.
“He did it out of kindness – expecting nothing in return, because it was in his loving nature,” Remillard said, reminding the group that’s a reason Abraham is still so revered by believers within the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
As it turned out, the “strangers” he met that day would end up delivering news that his family’s prayer for a child would soon be granted.
Sometimes there are problems in the world that no one man or woman can solve.
“Instead, focus on that person in front of you, he said, urging the group to listen rather than judge – and avoid letting a disagreement become a barrier. “Change happens three feet in front of you ... when you see someone for who they are and what their needs are and you draw the love out of them - every single day,”
To Linda Stiles, of Ebensburg, that’s a powerful message – that can easily forgotten debating politics or the value of safety masks.
“We might not be able to change the world. But we can show love to someone else around us,” said Stiles, a First United Church of Christ member.
Nearby, St. Francis University student Ashley Astle was teaching a group of four children about the importance of the “golden rule” – a message of empathy used by every culture and religion around the globe – albeit in different texts.
“This is about imagining a community we want this to be,” Remillard said. “We’re not so naive to think one event is going to change everything that’s wrong around us. But you never know the ripple effect it could have.”
The faith-based Alliance plans to continue holding additional events.