5,000 Worshipers Try To Break Barriers 113 Area Churches Sponsor Gathering To Celebrate Unity, Not Differences
They clapped like country music listeners, stomped their feet like rodeo watchers and whooped like hockey fans.
They were celebrating God - and hoping to break down barriers. The more than 5,000 worshipers who gathered Sunday night at the Spokane Arena were a rainbow of people, from white to black, young to old, liberal to conservative.
All had the same goal: reconciliation.
“We are delighted,” the Rev. Ezra Kinlow told the crowd. “We are excited. We are driven by the Holy Spirit of God, that this is taking place.”
They were driven for months to set up “Reconciliation Sunday.” It was an all-day affair celebrated at area churches and headlined by the evening service, which featured the Rev. Charles Cooper of Bellwood, Ill.
Two Spokane pastors planned the event: Kinlow of Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, and the Rev. John Repsold of Fourth Memorial Church.
Kinlow and Repsold joined forces to combat the bias and mistrust that divides society along racial, religious, gender and ethnic lines.
“We think it’s kind of a neat idea,” said Gary Leonard of Spokane, who attended the service with his wife, Zeda. “Reconciliation’s good.”
The leaders of 113 area churches - from Abundant Life Church to Zion Christian Center - thought so, too. At least 18 people spoke to the crowd, some with shaking voices, others with booming words that echoed from the Spokane Chiefs banner to the Pepsi flag.
Bill Burrell, chaplain at Fairchild Air Force Base, remembered growing up in a one-stoplight town in Alabama, where the swimming pool was for whites only and churches were segregated.
“Tonight we’re under the same roof,” he said to enthusiastic applause. “Tonight we will hear the same message.”
The audience was supportive, enveloping tentative speakers with standing ovations.
JoAnn Doud of Victorious Warriors Indian Church said she couldn’t speak in front of such a large crowd if not for the grace of God. As a teenager, she avoided speaking in public like castor oil. She suffered insecurity and pain. Quit school. Turned to drugs and alcohol.
But Doud learned a new way.
“I know the greatest medicine of all time,” she said, her voice quivering. “And that’s Jesus.”
People attending the service were all over the map.
Some were born in Tennessee, others in Spokane.
Some wore T-shirts, jeans and baseball caps. Others dressed in natty suits and fine Sunday dresses.
The chairman of the county Democrat Party thanked God under the same roof as the chairman of the county Republican Party.
A white woman fretted that her 2-year-old black son wanted to be white.
People sang “Amazing Grace” while holding hands.
They cheered louder when goaded by speakers. Time after time, they clapped their hands in celebration.
“We’re here to celebrate our unity and not debate our differences,” the Rev. Tom Starr said.