Churches welcome interfaith pilgrims as they follow Underground Railroad


July 20, 1998|By Sally Voris | Sally Voris,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ABOUT 60 pilgrims beat drums and waved flags as they walked down U.S. 1 on July 11.

They walked boldly in the steps of those who fled through our area on the Underground Railroad more than 100 years ago.

The pilgrims began their journey in Leverett, Mass., on May 30. They are retracing slavery's roads "consciously and prayerfully" to bring healing from the legacy of racism.

They will walk to New Orleans, travel to the Caribbean and South America, and walk down the west coast of Africa, ending their pilgrimage in Cape Town, South Africa, in May.

The idea for the Interfaith Pilgrimage of the Middle Passage originated with the Nipponzan Myohoji, a Buddhist religious order that holds peace walks as part of its spiritual mission.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland has supported the project in our area.

Trinity Episcopal Church in Waterloo, near Route 175 and U.S. 1, received information about the walk.

Sites on the Underground Railroad were close to the church along Deep Run, a local creek, and parishioner Johanna Som de Cerff shared the news with the Community Dialogue on Anti-Racism, a small group that meets monthly at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City.

Regular members of the group include Kim Bradford, Cornelius Brooks, Melvina Brown, the Rev. Delores Coniers, Sherman Howell, Ken Jennings, the Rev. Kirk Kubicek, Mallory Kubicek, Cathy Lundberg, Dick Mitchell, Michael Phillips, Som de Cerff, Jean Toomer and the Rev. Robert Turner.

Churches in Ellicott City, Elkridge and Jessup and African-American and other community groups decided to collaborate. The result was a memorable event for many of those involved.

Representatives from the Council of Elders of the Black Community in Howard County, the African American Coalition of Howard County, the Community Dialogue on Anti-Racism, the Howard County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Howard County Center of African American Culture and Community Building in Howard County served on the organizing committee.

Also on the committee were representatives from local churches -- Trinity Episcopal Church, the Lasting Connection (a group of six churches in the Jessup area), St. John's Episcopal Church, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Unity Baptist Church and St. Stephen's African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Wylene Burch, founder of the Howard County Center of African American Culture, met the pilgrims near Patapsco and Caton avenues and traveled with them to Howard County, where she officially welcomed them.

The Rev. and Mrs. Samuel Moore welcomed the travelers to Unity Baptist Church on Montgomery Road.

Members of Unity Baptist and volunteers from the Lasting Connection -- organized by Patricia Dutko -- served lunch.

The pilgrims walked to Trinity Episcopal Church, a historic building consecrated March 27, 1857, on land donated by Dr. Lennox Birckhead and William G. Ridgely.

Birckhead's wife had traveled around the country collecting donations for the building.

Elder Harts Brown, from the Council of Elders of the Black Community, was master of ceremonies for a program in the church sanctuary from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Democratic Del. Frank S. Turner and others greeted the audience. Mary Mannix presented an overview of Howard County history. Members of Long Reach Community Choir and Sandra Gray sang.

Parishioners of Trinity Episcopal served food that had been prepared by members of St. Peter's and St. John's Episcopal Churches in Ellicott City.

Boy Scout Troop 794 -- based at Our Lady of Perpetual Help -- pitched tents for the pilgrims on the grounds of Trinity Episcopal Church.

On Sunday morning, the pilgrims began a worship service at 6 a.m.

Buddhists were at the front of the sanctuary, chanting, drumming and ringing bells. Others knelt in the aisle.

A quiet time followed, then individual prayers, reflections, readings and songs.

The group sang "Go Down Moses" and songs from Jewish and Native American traditions.

They sang "Happy Birthday" to a Jewish pilgrim from New York who was celebrating her 62nd birthday.

Jean Neylon, a volunteer from St. Peter's, was at the early service.

Members of Trinity Episcopal Church fed breakfast to the pilgrims.

The group was on the road again by 8 a.m. Their destination: Friends Community School in College Park.

Paulina Moss, a volunteer at the Howard County Center of African American Culture, said she was unexpectedly moved by the way the Buddhists greeted each other -- hands together, heads bowed.

She described the pilgrimage as a "step forward" toward healing the "quicksand" left by slavery and our nation's struggle to speak about it honestly and compassionately.

The Rev. John Steiner, pastor at Trinity, found it exciting that people had committed a year of their lives to the pilgrimage.

"It reminds me of the '60s and '70s," he said. The pilgrims, he said, are "walking to help people reflect on the history of slavery. The energy that they brought to us was unbelievable."

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