Lighting candles, fighting racism

October 20, 1992

The first time the white suburban ladies drove into the city to deliver food to the black church's soup kitchen, they stayed in their cars and passed the dishes through slightly opened windows.

The next time, they rolled the windows all the way down. Later, they got out of their cars and brought the dishes into the church.

Eventually, they were serving their food inside the soup kitchen.

Chalk up another small victory for the Congregations Pairing and Caring program of Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC). The local program, about to mark its fifth year, has paired 52 black and white religious congregations of different faiths in order to help members confront and overcome their misconceptions about each other.

CALC official Ray Florence tells the tale of the suburban ladies to show how the program can achieve some of its goals. Such encounters by themselves won't cure the national sickness of racism, Mr. Florence concedes, but at least they keep communication going between people who are too often polarized.

As CALC executive director John Springer explains, "We see our job as lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness."

CALC-sponsored activities that link divergent congregations -- such as bowling parties, picnics, retreats, worship services and fund-raising fairs -- "will not solve the growing problem [of racism], but do help to alleviate tensions," Mr. Springer adds.

A major CALC event, the annual 10-kilometer walk-a-thon to raise money for African hunger relief, will be held for the fifth time this Saturday in south Baltimore. Even this event seeks to expose participants to the area's cultural diversity. A Carroll Countian said of a previous walk, "We really got a sense of the multi-culture of the city. People would come out to encourage us, and along the route, different churches served as aid stations. The members would serve refreshments and come out and talk with us. It was great."

CALC officials admit one failing of the Pairing and Caring program has been its lack of Korean churches. Yet the officials insist that recruiting Korean congregations remains an important goal.

Meanwhile, given the current climate of fear -- fear of crime, fear of the city, fear of strangers -- the work of groups such as Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned is invaluable. Other local congregations might do well to join CALC in some constructive candle-lighting.

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