Saturday, Aug. 12, was a deadly day in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a Unite the Right rally sparked violent confrontation and apparent domestic terrorism.
But a safe space amid the chaos was formed by the work of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective.
Michael Cheuk, a Baptist Center for Ethics board member and collective participant, spoke with EthicsDaily.com in a new online video interview about how the collective gave public witness and support last Saturday in Charlottesville.
The collective formed in Charlottesville after the Emanuel AME Church shooting in June 2015. Its hope: to improve race relations and mobilize clergy proactively should Charlottesville experience a similar tragedy.
Cheuk began participating when he was pastor of University Baptist Church in Charlottesville. The collective was a monthly meeting of 15 to 20 pastors working to deepen relationships.
“We began to play a more active role in the community after the election of President Trump,” said Cheuk in the interview, “and then with the coming of the KKK group on July 8, and then obviously preparing for the Unite the Right rally last Saturday.”
Cheuk said the collective knew Saturday’s event would be much more intense than what had transpired with a Ku Klux Klan visit to Charlottesville a month earlier.
By then, the collective’s number had increased to about 40 clergy – of various faiths – at a meeting.
They decided one contribution for the Aug. 12 protests would be to organize a safe space for clergy and members of the community during the protests.
The chosen space was First United Methodist Church, across the street from the park where the Unite the Right rally was staged.
Cheuk said seminars and training opportunities were held for various clergy groups prior to Aug. 12.
These included nonviolent workshops as well as a seminar on “the ethnic and racial history of Charlottesville just to give us a context to place what’s happening with the Robert E. Lee statue and the removal.”
As such, there was education, training and some structure on Saturday to provide “a public witness.”
“So as you can tell, there was just a lot of moving pieces,” Cheuk told EthicsDaily.com.
First UMC was indeed able to maintain a safe space amid Saturday’s confusion and violence.
“That congregation mobilized its members,” said Cheuk, adding that metal detectors and wands, managed access and arms prohibitions contributed to the success.
Watch the video for more on what Cheuk described as “soul searching” regarding who could enter the church.
Watch the interview with Cheuk at https://vimeo.com/ethicsdaily/cheuk
Learn more about Cheuk and the Charlottesville Clergy Collective at MichaelkCheuk.com and CvilleClergyCollective.org