I grew up a preacher’s kid, and I have very fond memories of worshipping and playing throughout the church building — and sometimes playing hide-and-go-seek when we weren’t supposed to, truth be told. All places of worship serve as both sacred places for people to pray in and as sanctuaries for us to walk into and let what is happening outside wash away for a few moments. Our schools, too, serve as both sanctuaries for our children to feel safe in and sacred for the treasure they hold for our communities each Monday through Friday. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in a strange city, overwhelmed and tired, and have been comforted seeing the red doors of an Episcopal church — to walk in off the street, not knowing anyone but knowing I was welcome.
However, in recent years we have seen too many of these sanctuaries and sacred places ruptured and defiled by violence. The shootings at the temple in Pittsburgh and the churches in Texas and South Carolina are still very recent. The shootings in schools in Parkland and Newtown were not that long ago either. Though far away, we now have our brothers, sisters and their children killed and wounded in their sacred places and sanctuaries — two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — for no other reason than their religious beliefs.
We at the Maine MultiCultural Center, right here in Bangor, all deeply mourn for the 50 fallen, peace-loving fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts and, yes, tiny, precious children of the Muslim faith in Christchurch. We also mourn the pain and suffering we see such actions cause indirectly to our own brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith who live and work here in Greater Bangor.
After such tragedies, we at the center are mostly at a loss for words — many of us attended an impromptu vigil at the University of Maine in Orono. We certainly don’t have all the answers nor are we the sole ones to make Bangor a more welcoming and safe place for all. But we’re trying as hard as we can as a band of volunteers of differing faiths, including Jewish, Muslim and Christian, and secular representatives from the business and academic communities.
We simply aim to preserve and improve upon Bangor’s ability and willingness to accept and welcome people of different backgrounds. It will take many small and large actions over many years. We have a wonderful group of volunteers who put on educational forums at the Bangor Public Library each month, for example.
We can all say hello to a complete stranger on the street, minimize — or stop altogether — our talk of those moving here “from away” as a bad thing, or even better, break bread and share a meal with someone who comes from a different background.
Join us in your own way in making Greater Bangor that safe place that we all want to attain and thereby protect our sacred places and sanctuaries.
Chris Linder is a member of the board and treasurer of the Maine MultiCultural Center. This column was written on behalf of the board.