Written by Anthony Moujaes
A United Church of Christ pastor, the Rev. Steve Savides, reached out with a group of interfaith partners and offered support and healing during a vigil Tuesday night for members of the Sikh community in Wisconsin.
Savides, a pastor at First Congregational UCC in Appleton, Wis., was one of the religious leaders to speak during a two-hour service in response to the tragic shootings at the beginning of the week that claimed seven lives. More than 400 people gathered together in solidarity and worship at a Sikh Temple in Menasha, near Appleton.
Savides told the crowd, "I bring you blessings and peace and all good wishes from the members and friends of First Congregational United Church of Christ of Appleton. I bring you their prayers and their hopes. I bring you their sense of outrage and injustice. I bring you their renewed commitment to a state and a community where all may dwell in peace and fellowship."
ESTHER (Empowerment Solidarity Truth Hope Equality Reform), a Wisconsin-based interfaith social justice group, helped organize the event with the city of Appleton. The vigil was held in close consultation with the Sikh community, said Savides, who works closely with ESTHER. "Everyone I spoke to talked about needing to be there. There's a sense of shared brokenness, shared harm... Wisconsin is not used to this kind of thing."
Savides said members of the Sikh Temple welcomed those who supported and attended the vigil with a display of love, peace and hospitality. "Tonight our hearts break with yours, for all the victims and all the families who have been victimized by this terrible crime," he told them. "And it is the mystery of religious faith that in the midst of this breaking we can hope that the holy words of God will penetrate our hearts and our community: Words like 'peace' and 'tolerance,' 'hospitality' and 'neighbor,' and 'faith' and 'love.' These are words that we have seen embodied in your welcome tonight."
Savides hopes stronger relationships among the interfaith groups and the Sikh community will be built in the aftermath of the tragedy. "Priest (Singh) Balli and I talked about trying to make this a beginning of a relationship," Savides said. "We want to make sure they're invited to ESTHER events."
On Sunday morning, the alleged gunman, Wade Page, opened fire at a Sikh Temple near Milwaukee, killing six people before he died at the scene.
UCC leaders on Tuesday offered their support to the Sikh community and those affected with a pastoral letter.