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First-person account: the night neo-Nazis surrounded my church

First-person account: the night neo-Nazis surrounded my church

Leah Wise is a member of St. Paul’s Memorial Church (Episcopal) in Charlottesville. Here is her account of attending the service that recent Friday night when neo-Nazis surrounded the church.

Read it all, but here are a few paragraphs, beginning with her recognition that Charlottesville has divides like other places in the country.

It took me a while to realize the extent of segregation in the city, but the signs were there. Beyond the racial segregation by neighborhood, there’s the cultural divide between conservative Southerners and liberal-leaning University of Virginia (UVa) professors and grads. Heightened economic disparity and rising housing costs in this “happiest town in the USA” certainly aren’t helping. We are united by our bordering-on-idolatrous love for our city, but sometimes that’s all that connects us.

Because of this demographic diversity, Charlottesville lives in the tension of its progressive values and its failure to live up to them….

On Friday night, I walked up the stairs of St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church, my home church, across the street from UVa’s majestic Rotunda. On a normal Sunday, St. Paul’s is not quite full, its pews spotted with students, families, and retirement-age folks—all mostly white. But that night, the nave was standing room only, with overflow crowds moved into the side chapel. My Charlottesville neighbors and a smattering of out-of-towners—black, white, brown, young, old, Muslim, Christian, Unitarian, Jewish—stood side by side.

The song leader told us to sing loud enough for the neo-Nazis outside to hear. This church—my Episcopal church—normally a place of stiffness and Southern gentility, transformed into a loud celebration. We were stomping and pounding on the backs of pews, clapping our hands together like cymbals. We were singing spirituals and marching songs together with unencumbered joy, all ages and races and faiths together, trapped in a building with no particular urgency to leave each other. In that moment, we were unified, choosing joy in the face of an unknowable terror.

Follow Leah Wise at StyleWise-Blog.

Image: St. Paul’s Memorial (credit)


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Cricket B Wood

Leah Wise, I was born a Southern Baptist & remained a Baptist when I was saved. I will admit I’ve often thought of Episcopal as stiff. But by that service was like everyone were of one thought and mind! That’s the way we should all be, all the time! Outside color isn’t imp’t, cause inside we are all the same. Love your testimony, if I was well, I’d have been there with you praising the LORD!!????????????????????

Ted Duncombe

Thank you, Leah. I’m a cradle Episcopalian and the scene you describe fills me with joy.

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