On Sunday, Sept. 24, people of various races, backgrounds and economic situations from throughout McDowell County will gather together in the spirit of unity, cooperation, concern and “bringing hope into the need.”
The McDowell Community Unity service will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 in the auditorium of East Middle School. It is a follow up to last year’s Unity service, which was held in October at the First Baptist Church of Marion.
This special event held last year at First Baptist was designed to be “an afternoon of prayer and worship celebrating the opportunity and calling we share to be united together as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Leaders from the city of Marion, local ministers, law enforcement and the school system and numerous other local residents took part in this event, which drew a standing room only crowd to the large and historic church building. The spirit of fellowship and unity that came out of this event inspired the organizers to follow up on the good will that was generated.
“This is an opportunity as a community to show our respect and our compassion for each other so we don’t fall into the pit other communities have fallen into when they focus on what divides us rather than what unites us,” said Marion Mayor Steve Little.
This year’s special service was broadened to include all of McDowell County. To accommodate the bigger crowd, it will be held at East Middle’s large auditorium, which seats more than 750.
Some of the participants lined up for this service are Little, Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin, Social Services Director Lisa Sprouse and Police Chief Allen Lawrence. Like last year, students from McDowell High will read the Old Testament and New Testament lessons in both English and Spanish. One of the guest speakers will be EMS Director William Kehler. Either Sheriff Dudley Greene or Chief Deputy Ricky Buchanan will represent the McDowell Sheriff’s Office.
The Rev. Walter Pegues of Addie’s Chapel United Methodist will give a prayer for unity in action. The Rev. Danny Hampton of Freedom Life Ministries will deliver the sermon and Pastor Bob Ritter of Nebo Crossing will give a prayer to dedicate the offering.
The offering will be collected to benefit two local agencies that help those in need: McDowell Mission Ministries and Freedom Life Ministries.
Following the service, a community resource fair will be available in the cafeteria. There, you will find information booths representing various churches, McDowell Mission, the East Marion and West Marion community forums, DARE, the Sheriff’s Office, CareNet Counseling, Vaya Health and the McDowell Health Coalition.
The service and the resource fair will also specifically focus on the problem of addiction and opioid abuse here in McDowell.
Greene said this is an issue that cuts across race, gender and other demographics.
There will be room for 50 tables at the resource fair. Several of them are already committed to agencies that specialize in addition recovery and other types of social services. Organizers are offering the uncommitted spots first to the churches involved with the planning team and then to any other churches in McDowell that would like to participate.
Over the past year, a special committee has met to discuss and plan for the next Unity service and what it should accomplish. The committee has also been organized into a non-profit corporation called McDowell Unity Inc.
The stated purpose is:
• To promote a spirit of unity, concern and cooperation among the diverse people living and working in McDowell County, North Carolina.
• To advocate for the needs of people of all races, genders and ages in McDowell County, North Carolina, but especially for those unable to be their own advocate.
• To provide education and increased awareness of the existence of resources in the McDowell County community to help people struggling with a wide variety of issues, including without limitation family stress and abuse, addictive substances, mental and emotional stress and challenges, and other issues that negatively influence their daily lives.
The organizers said it is important for people who are suffering from substance abuse to know these churches and organizations stand ready to help them with their recovery.
“So many people who are in addiction think they won’t be welcome at these churches,” said Sabra Rock, executive director of McDowell Mission Ministries.
The planners of last year’s special service said it came out of conversations here in McDowell by local leaders about what was going on across the nation. These conversations focused on the divisions that exist between various segments of society and the distrust and suspicion many African-Americans and Hispanics have regarding their law enforcement. It came about after other cities across the nation experienced protests and demonstrations about the issues of systemic racism and violence against minorities at the hands of law officers. There were also cases of violence directed towards law enforcement.
But instead of waiting for something to happen and then react to it, the planners of last year’s Unity service thought something proactive should be done now here in Marion.
Now, they are taking the same approach to the issues now confronting McDowell County.
“We are actively engaged and reaching out to the hurting people in our community,” said Hampton.
For more information, call Jan Ramsey, one of the organizers, at 659-2248. If your church or organization wishes to be part of the community resource fair, call the Rev. Danny Hampton at 559-2224 no later than Monday, Sept. 18.