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Group unites at courthouse in prayer for Muslims

A crowd of about 200 people gathered in downtown Jonesborough Sunday afternoon to unite in a prayer for – and as a welcome to – local Muslim communities, as well as possible future Syrian refugees.
“We will never say your life is less than our lives.” Rev. Tim Ross with Hopwood Christian Church in Milligan promised the gathering, which included representatives from the Muslim Community of NE Tennessee, as well as young and old from across the region.
Ross was among several pastors, ministers, reverends and chaplains who spoke at the Dec. 20 vigil, set on the Historic Jonesborough Courthouse steps on Main Street.
Hosted by the Northeast Tennessee Chapter of the United Religions Initiative, organizers said the event was prompted as a show of support for Muslims and Syrian refugees in the wake of current political arguments and the fear that has arisen amid the discussion.
“My God says faith drives out fear,” said Jonesborough resident and local Lutheran Pastor Ed Wolff, who was one of the individuals who helped organize the rally. “What happens when people get fearful, they look for a scapegoat. Muslims are the scapegoat and refugees are the scapegoat.”
Wolff wanted to help change all that.
The idea for a prayer vigil and rally actually surfaced at a recent URI meeting Wolff attended — his first, he said.
“We were talking about doing something that would demonstrate to the Muslim community that we supported them,” Wolff said. Someone recommended having it on the old courthouse steps in Jonesborough. “I said, ‘well, I can help with that.’ ”
A front page article in the Johnson City Press helped spread the word. “I didn’t expect that,” Wolff said.
The message — throughout the speeches, prayers and songs held during the event — was one of “diverse but unified.”
“We are all God’s children,” said Rebecca Nunley, an elder from First Presbyterian church of Elizabethton.
The Rev. Jacqueline Luck, with Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Johnson City, believes the secret lies in “getting to really know people.”
Wolff agreed.
“When we tell our story to one another, the differences melt away,” he said. “Our commonality is God and our commonality is this country, free for all people.
“And if we begin with that, we can be a people who are strong and a light of the world to everyone else.”
And, as more and more people began to gather at Sunday’s 3 p.m. event, Wolff continued to see something potentially positive amid the struggle.
“In a way, this is a blessing,” Wolff said. “We have been sitting on our laurels for so long. Our value system is being tested.
“We have to remember that freedom is not free. We have to stand up and do what is right.”