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Interfaith gathering in Manhattan discusses steps to stop racism

People listen to a

People listen to a "Service of Justice and Reconciliation" at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan on January 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

New York City's Lutherans kick-started conversations about how to end racism in America by holding an interfaith service Saturday to find the way forward.

"Our hope is our conversations will lead us," said the Rev. Robert Alan Rimbo, bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Asked what concrete steps might be taken, he replied: "God knows."

After the service, dozens of people gathered in small groups to discuss questions posed by the bishop, who asked them to speak of their personal experiences and consider what actions they might take to battle racism.

The Lutheran synod hosted the event, which was prompted by dozens of protests in many U.S. cities -- including New York -- after grand juries decided not to indict police officers in the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year.

More than 200 people came to "A Service for Justice and Reconciliation" at St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Manhattan, where religious leaders offered guidance on racial issues from traditional texts.

Imam Talib al Hajj 'Abdur-Rachid of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood of Manhattan reminded worshippers that God saved Noah and thus all of humanity from the flood, sowing "the seeds of justice in our new land."

The Rev. Heidi Neumark, pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Manhattan, likened the need to confront racism to the Lord's solution when Moses led his people into the desert and they were set upon by poisonous snakes. God did not rid them of the serpents as they might have wished, she said.

"First you have to face the snake . . . take a look at what's biting you," she said.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro, who worships at Manhasset's Our Saviour Lutheran Church, told Newsday that uniformed firefighters and emergency medical technicians had not encountered the public hostility that some police officers have experienced. Though tensions in New York City seemed to have eased this week, he added: "It's a weekend when we should be thinking about Dr. [Martin Luther] King and his message was justice."

The NYPD did not respond to invitations to attend, church officials said. A police spokesman said Saturday that NYPD Commissioner William Bratton was out of town.

An aide for Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose relations with the NYPD fractured after Garner's death in an apparent police chokehold, was delayed and missed the service, a church spokesman said.

The lack of concrete proposals did not faze attendees, including Jacquelyn Mize-Baker of New York.

"I think there's always progress when people come together, to speak together with voice and prayer," she said.

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