A United Church of Christ congregation on Cape Cod is seeing a lot of walk-up visitors and community interest in a 'Support Board' propped up outside on the church lawn that offers passersby an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings about the violence plaguing our communities around America.
"It is wonderful to see that a simple effort like this is getting such a large response, and it is important to communicate to the community that the church is the place they can turn to in times of sadness and confusion," said the Rev. Susan Cartmell, settled pastor of Pilgrim Church United Church of Christ in Harwich Port, Mass. "It is the UCC church which has the unique message for moments like this when our country cannot avoid seeing the racial violence all around us."
The board first went up outside Pilgrim Church after the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June. At that time, the congregation quickly organized a prayer service and 160 people came. Based on that response, church members decided that the community needed to have a place to continue to express their grief and find support, so they placed the board on the lawn and encouraged people to write on it. It's been such a popular idea, they had to start a second message board.
"When I go by the front of the church people are always engaged with the board," said Cartmell. "Mostly I see children and parents sitting and talking about the message on it — about praying for peace or leaving a message that means something to them." Cartmell added that some folks spend as much as a half hour in reflection there. "The main message is 'Lord, hear our prayers for peace.' Someone has written 'Black Lives Matter' in the center of the board, which is good too."
And the message of the board is bringing new people to church in the tourist town on the Lower Cape. The Sunday, July 10, service drew a noticeably larger congregation.
"We discovered that people were finding our worship services on Sunday because of the board on the lawn, and last week after so many more shootings, Pilgrim Church was full of new faces. Many folks in town for a short time come seeking a church."
"It is clear that people are finding their way back inside our church community," said Brooke Canada, the church administrator. "We have seen a significant rise in attendance Sunday mornings, in our activities, and in general more people are entering our church building."
Beginning July 19, Pilgrim Church is planning to add a service on Tuesday nights for the time being to continue to offer the opportunity for healing and reflection. Cartmell said it will be a short time of prayer and reflection that will be advertised widely and open to the community.
"We appreciate all of the support the UCC is offering to their church communities as well, during this troubling time," said Canada. "We believe church communities are the strongest and most healing communities."