Old South Church continues peaceful tradition, sending cranes to Missouri congregation
Written by Emily Schappacher
August 18, 2014

The Rev. John M. Edgerton, associate minister of Old South Church UCC in Boston, speaks in front of the peace cranes that will be delivered to Christ the King UCC in Florissant, Mo. Photo: Nancy Richardson

During the past three years, 1,000 paper peace cranes have traveled more than 1,100 miles to United Church of Christ congregations in communities around the country that have been shaken by violence. Their next journey will be from Old South Church UCC in Boston, which received the cranes after the Boston Marathon tragedy, to Christ the King UCC in Florissant, Mo., which is currently responding to race-related riots and violence caused by the fatal shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

While the tiny origami birds are small in scale, the Rev. Nancy Taylor hopes they provide members of Christ the King UCC a much-needed sense of hope, peace and solidarity, just as they did for members of her church during their time of need.

"The 1,000 peace cranes seem a frail gesture at this moment, but they do bear with them our real love for their community, our real pain at their heartache, our real prayers for peace with justice for the family of Michael Brown, and all the families and all the communities represented by his murder," said Taylor, senior minister of Old South Church.

Old South Church blessed the peace cranes, which were displayed at the church in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and again during the event's first anniversary this past April, during worship services on Sunday, Aug. 17. This week, the cranes will travel with Old South Church's youth leader to Missouri and be hand-delivered to Christ the King UCC during worship services on Sunday, Aug. 24.

Since Brown's shooting on Aug. 9, Christ the King UCC has acted as a bridge between Ferguson community members and the police. The church first sponsored a community prayer vigil, and on Aug. 14, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King UCC, coordinated an ecumenical forum at the church with the Ferguson police chief and mayor in attendance to answer questions from the public. Blackmon organized the forum by petitioning the Ferguson police with nearly 500 signatures to open a dialogue with the community in hopes of avoiding more violence, vandalism and looting.

Christ the King UCC is now working to gather signatures on petitions to change local laws and to recall some elected officials, and is also helping to connect mental health counselors and other support resources with residents suffering from trauma, Blackmon said.

"It's absolutely phenomenal," Blackmon said of the gift of the peace cranes during an interview with the Boston Globe. "It's a constant, tangible reminder that there are others that are praying with you and you're not alone."

The peace cranes, constructed in an array of bright colors and patterns, were originally folded by members of Saron UCC in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., in 2011 to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Saron UCC sent the cranes to Pilgrim Christian Church UCC in Chardon, Ohio, after the school shooting that took place at Chardon High School in Feb. 2012. Pilgrim Christian Church UCC then sent them to Newtown Congregational UCC in Newtown, Conn., after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Dec. 2012, and Newtown UCC sent them to Old South Church following the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. 

"The Rev. Traci Blackmon and her congregation — and all the people of Ferguson — are on our hearts and in our prayers," said Taylor. "As night follows night, as bad goes to worse, their tears are our tears, their dismay is our dismay. For when one part of the body suffers, all suffer with it." 

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