Shared from the 11/3/2020 Greenwich Time eEdition

People reminded to keep the faith in tough political times

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

The Rev. Stephanie Johnson leads the service at the Blessing of the Pets at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenwich on Oct. 8, 2017.

A sign is planted firmly in the grass in front of the Rev. Stephanie Johnson’s church in Greenwich. It reads “Love your neighbor who doesn’t look like you, think like you, love like you, speak like you, pray like you, vote like you. Love your neighbor. No exceptions.”

It’s become a mantra for St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Riverside, where Johnson is rector. Ahead of a contentious election, Johnson thinks people need the reminder more than ever.

Across denominations and town lines, faith leaders in Stamford and Greenwich hope to remind their congregants that the election won’t be the end of the world, no matter how dire the situation feels to both sides.

“I’m a big believer in the Serenity Prayer,” said Rabbi Mitchell Hurvitz of Temple Sholom in Greenwich. “Know what you can control versus what you can’t and focus your energy on that which you can control.”

Hurvitz encourages civility and dialogue among worshippers at his synagogue, something he sees as fundamentally missing from the national political conversation.

“We’re all wired to want to be heard, but that interferes with our ability to listen,” he said. “So, we have to kind of discipline ourselves to set aside our agenda, even if it’s for a little bit, just to sort of listen to someone else.”

Especially as big, partisan discussions arise, the rabbi encourages people to see “holy intentions” in their interactions with others, even if no agreement can be found. To Hurvitz, it all goes back to loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

“In the Talmud, it says you always have to argue for the sake of heaven, not for the sake of yourself, not for the sake of a specific agenda item, because you’re really concerned to embrace holiness,” he said. “You cannot have a pursuit of holiness if you’re not having conversations.”

The Rev. Dr. Robert A. Jackson Jr. has encouraged parishioners at Bethel AME Church on Stamford’s West Side to engage in discourse — and voting. It’s a part of his denomination’s very core, he said.

“We actually were formed out of protest, from when we pulled away from the United Methodist Church, back in 1787,” said Jackson.

Working for liberation through justice and racial equity went hand-in-hand with the church’s founding, a history Jackson has made clear through his conversations with his congregation.

To further encourage civic action, Bethel AME joined the initiative Souls to the Polls, which provides Black voters with information about candidates and their platforms. The church even offers rides to the polls for those who cannot transport themselves.

On Election Day, Jackson plans to post up in front of Bethel AME to provide solace and encouragement to community members in one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods. The Yerwood Center, where voters can drop off their ballots, is just around the corner. Jackson wants to be a comforting face for people as they participate in what he calls “the most critical election in our lifetime.”

Rev. Johnson from St. Paul’s Episcopal also sees the reverberations of civic life among her parishoners, who she sees as particularly involved with the election and their communities.

“They’re inspired to go out in the world with the love that they learn in their faith life,” she said. “That sense of loving your neighbor just manifests itself in many wonderful ways.”

Like Rev. Jackson, Johnson espoused the importance of voting in recent sermons. To her, civic action is about representing the values that she as a Christian believes and loves.

Still, Johnson doesn’t talk politics at church. Values come first.

“We talk about taking care of those in need and the oppressed and standing up on the margins and loving all people,” said Johnson.

For those especially nervous about the election or its aftermath, Johnson offers Philippians 4:6 as respite: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Like the sign in front of her church, Johnson thinks the verse embodies the sense of serenity she wants to provide as people head to the polls:

“Whatever happens in the week ahead, knowing that God is with us, and that we are called to continue to love all people.”

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