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Coming Together: La Jolla churches to host interfaith event as precursor to dialogue on race

With the hope of bringing La Jollans together in a welcoming way to find we have more similarities than differences, La Jolla churches are planning an interfaith concert and barbecue for Saturday, Sept. 19.

Hosted by La Jolla Presbyterian Church and Prince Chapel By the Sea African Methodist Episcopal, a concert by Remembrance Entertainment Group featuring Angela Petty will be presented at 3 p.m. at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, 7715 Draper Ave., followed by a barbecue and cook-off around 4:30 p.m. at Prince Chapel By The Sea, 7517 Cuvier St.

Several La Jolla churches, including Prince Chapel, La Jolla Presbyterian, La Jolla Christian Fellowship, St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal and La Jolla United Methodist will prepare their best barbecue dishes for the dinner event. Attendees will be encouraged to walk to the barbecue together.

Pastor Charles Norris of Prince chapel By the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church and Rev. Paul Cunningham of La Jolla Presbyterian Church
Pastor Charles Norris of Prince chapel By the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church and Rev. Paul Cunningham of La Jolla Presbyterian Church

The concert and barbecue is intended to be a first step, a proverbial coming to the table, for people to eventually have an in-depth dialogue about race relations in the United States.

“A lot of issues get resolved when we take the time to get to know one another. We find that we are more alike than we are different,” said Prince Chapel pastor Charles Norris. “We want everyone to come, the last thing we need is a homogeneous gathering. That’s the problem, everyone has those little factions, and so we hope this will be the opportunity for people to blur the lines.”

La Jolla Presbyterian Rev. Paul Cunningham added, “It’s a community event sponsored by the two churches. Everyone is invited, no matter what their background or faith.”

Once everyone has had a chance to get to know one another, a series of lectures will be scheduled to open up the dialogue about race.

The idea has been a long time coming, the two men said, and spurs from discussions the two churches were already having. Cunningham said at the presbyterian Church, there is a men’s group that meets and occasionally hosts a speaker. Norris was the speaker after the August 2014 unrest in Ferguson, missouri, in which protests/riots broke out after the shooting death of African-American michael brown by a white police officer.

“There was and is an underlying desire for people to know more and have a better understanding when these tragedies occur (and to understand the social issues that lead up to them),” Norris said. “For us, we were looking at how to get past the two churches and engage our community in that conversation,” Cunningham said.

When a second racially based tragedy struck Charleston, South Carolina in June — when a lone white gunman killed nine people in an African methodist episcopal Church — Norris said it was apparent there was a serious issue to explore.

Two days after the Charleston shooting, prince Chapel held a prayer vigil that was open to all members of the community.

“I was awestruck with the response,” Norris said. “The church was filled with people and most of the churches in the Village were represented. That’s hasn’t happened since I’ve been here. So I thought, let’s not have this stop. I found myself asking, what is it going to take to get everyone together? What is a gathering like the one we want going to come at the expense of?” Deciding that, “enough is enough,” the

two churches proceeded with plans to have a series of lectures to create a meaningful discussion.

The specifics of the lectures have not been confirmed, and will likely be decided after the concert barbecue, Cunningham said. “This event will be the beginning. We don’t know exactly where it will go or how it will get there, but we do know that we all have stories to tell, and it’s important to hear those stories. It’s also important for our children to hear those stories, and to see adults trying to have a dialogue and walk through (any discomfort). That is valuable.”

Hoping there will be a special focus on young people, Norris said the youth of today are exposed to racial occurrences “flooding the headlines,” and an ever- changing culture of equality issues. He cited for example, the footage from 2006 that recently came to light showing professional wrestler Hulk Hogan using racial slurs, including the N-word, about his daughter’s then-boyfriend. Additionally, Norris recalled reading about an African-American child’s birthday party in Georgia this July that was interrupted by a truck full of men waving Confederate flags.

“These things are happening all the time — and it’s more than racism, we have marriage equality issues and gender issues to look at. These issues are going to keep coming, so we need to have a forum for discussions in an encouraging, non-punitive environment,” Norris said. “I don’t think we realize how much our young people are struggling with these issues. ... Actions speak louder than words and they take a lot of cues from us. They need to see their parents participate in something like this.”

He added that “Societal norms we thought would never change are going left and right,” and an added focus could be on language and how it changes, and how words can hurt people, in an effort to curtail the behavior.

Cunningham added, “This is a hard thing, that’s the bottom line. To have courageous conversations is hard because both sides deserve to be heard even though hard things are being said ... it could take years for progress to be made, but if we never try, than we are not fulfilling our mission.”

both the concert barbecue and subsequent dialogues are open to people of any faith — or none — and Norris said better understanding of cultural issues could strengthen La Jolla as a whole.

“We all believe in love, kindness and forgiveness. You put whatever denominational label you want, but at the end of the day, we all believe the same things. I try not to let theology separate us,” he said. “I hope people take (whatever they learn from the gatherings) back to their respective organizations — whether that’s the PTA, the La Jolla Town Council, the Homeowners Association or Kiwanis Club — and practice it there.”

Interfaith Concert & Barbecue

■ Saturday, Sept. 19

■ 3 p.m. concert, Remembrance Entertainment Group with Angela Petty, at La Jolla Presbyterian Church

■ 4:30 p.m. barbecue, with food samplings from five churches, at Prince Chapel By the Sea African Methodist Episcopal Church

■ Tickets: $25 at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, 7715 Draper Ave. Prince Chapel, 7517 Cuvier St. La Jolla Christian Fellowship, 627 Genter St. La Jolla United Methodist, 6063 La Jolla Blvd. St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal, 743 Prospect St. Also available at the event.