United Church of Christ ministers joined more than 200 people who gathered Sunday near the Boston Marathon finish line in support of last week’s bombing victims and to reclaim the area as a safe space. While the corner of Boylston and Berkeley streets is still closed to the public as an active crime scene, the ecumenical group of supporters got as close to the finish line as they could, clustered at a makeshift memorial at the edge of the barricade in a moving display of solidarity.
"While we were unable to reclaim the finish line itself, we were able to have a sacred interfaith blessing and stand in profound solidarity with our differences here in Boston," said the Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. "No bombs, no demented people, however much ill they may wish on us, can detract us from that."
Old South Church UCC is located on Boylston Street, just steps away from the site of the bombings. The historic church plays the important role of blessing the runners before the race and ringing the bells for the winners each year. The building has remained closed since last Monday, but the Old South congregation has been sharing space and resources with the Church of the Covenant, a UCC and Presbyterian congregation a few blocks away. The Rev. Nancy Taylor, Old South senior minister and CEO, said her church continues to fly three marathon banners as a symbolic tribute to those affected by the tragic event.
"We fly them first in memory of those whose lives were taken that day, and second we fly them with prayers for those who were harmed and for those who grieve," Taylor said. "And we fly them also in thanksgiving for first responders. There is still much, much pain in the world today and we are very far from being healed."
While other parts of Boston have reopened for business as usual, Boylston Street still looks as it did after the bombs exploded. Debris litters the street, fencing and other structures erected for the race still stand. The area will be cleaned up and reopened to the public once the FBI investigation is complete, which some reports say could be early this week. But it will take more than just moving the barricades for things to truly get back to normal, Antal said, adding that the church should prepare to help those on the long road to recovery.
"The message religious leaders have to offer to Boston, Massachusetts and the entire world is amplified because normal reality is on hold," said Antal. "If you're not part of the whirlwind, then you're like, ‘That's so last week, what's new?' But here, it just keeps going."