Faith leaders ally in pilgrimage to build trust among St. Louisans over Memorial Day weekend | St. Louis Public Radio

Faith leaders ally in pilgrimage to build trust among St. Louisans over Memorial Day weekend

May 10, 2017

Several years ago, the archbishop of St. Louis, Robert Carlson, had a discussion with a group of black pastors about an idea for people of different races, ethnicities and backgrounds to come together and talk to each other. Unfortunately, that effort failed.

And then, events unfolded in Ferguson. After the police shooting death of Michael Brown and the protests that followed, Carlson said, “I knew in my heart that we needed to get people to sit down and talk to each other, to understand and to know one another.”

Those thoughts were the seeds of a “Pilgrimage of Trust,” an ecumenical weekend of prayer, conversation, thought leadership and a walk across St. Louis with different faith groups happening over Memorial Day weekend.

It is the culmination of a year’s worth of meetings between faith groups in the city led by brothers of the Taizé Community.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, Carlson, along with the Rev. Starsky Wilson of St. John’s United Church of Christ and president of the Deaconess Foundation and Brother Emile, a member of the Taizé Community, joined hostDon Marsh to discuss the thought process behind the event.

What is Taizé?

Two years ago, Carlson wrote a letter to a small faith community in a tiny village in France asking for assistance in leading conversation across divides. He had seen their work to build trust on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 2013 and hoped something similar could happen here.

Brother Emile is from the Taizé Community in France but has spent parts of the past year in St. Louis. He said that the group began in the 1940s as a place to welcome Jewish refugees during World War II and to reflect and build community in faith. The group’s leader, Brother Roger, made the move to transform the society into an ecumenical one, after more young people started showing up to the village to learn from the brothers during the 1960s.

“We prayed, we reflected on scripture, we talked about society,” Emile said. “Brother Roger was respectful of people’s freedom. Nothing was imposed. There was space to search.”

The community is founded in the Christian tradition, but welcome to people of all faiths. Since the 1960s, about 100,000 young people have come through the Taizé Community in France to learn from the brotherhood.

How the Taizé way has been at work in St. Louis

When Brother Emile came to St. Louis a year ago, he began reaching out to all different sorts of Christian faith groups – Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Baptist, Episcopal – for conversations across divides. He also reached out to Jewish and Muslim groups.

One of those people he reached out to was Wilson, who said that during his work with the Ferguson Commission he had a deep sense that to heal St. Louis, there would be a need for a greater power. In his mind, that was the power of prayer. Although the commission had a lot of dialogue, those weren’t necessarily centered in prayer.

“I talk to people a lot about the difference between accuracy and truth,” Wilson said. “When it comes to faith, I speak more about the truth than I do about accuracy. Are there surveys folks can point to about the benefit of prayer for positive development, for extension of life, for development of relationships? Yes. But that’s not the space I go in. I talk about the truth — that prayer has made a difference for me, the stressors in life. The places I’ve been called, I could not go alone.”

Carlson said for him, prayer helps people grow in respect for one another. And he hopes by the inclusion of prayer in the pilgrimage, it will help people feel an outpouring of love and healing.

Prayer is central to the life of the Taizé Community. In France, bells ring three times a day to call the community to prayer.

“But Taizé is never about prayer only,” Brother Emile said. “It is always prayer and human solidarity.”

How the pilgrimage will work

Over the course of the Memorial Day weekend, several gatherings and events will be held for people of all faiths. On Friday, events will be held at the SLU student center, starting with an evening prayer. On Saturday, prayers will be offered three times during the day, along with reflection on scripture, and the chance for people to reflect and share personal experiences. In the afternoon, different faith groups will host workshops on building trust.

People have been invited to come from outside of St. Louis; the events are open to people of all ages. 

On Sunday, May 28, there will be a walk of trust, starting from various faith groups at 2 p.m., including the Central Reform Synagogue, Cathedral Basilica, other churches in the Midtown area, walking down Delmar Boulevard to SLU’s campus. There will three stops along the way featuring as speakers the Rev. Willis Johnson, Amy Hunter, and the people behind We Stories.

The organizers of this pilgrimage hope people come with the courage to have uncomfortable conversations and to welcome and make space for diverse perspectives.

“The type of trust we’re talking about is not this easy optimism, but it is the kind of trust that allows us to open our eyes to reality, to see the depths of suffering and what people are waiting for and to find the courage to respond,” Brother Emile said.

“I’d like to invite everyone because that’s what this is for,” Carlson said. “If there’s someone listening to this broadcast wondering if they’d be welcome or not: you are most welcome.”

More information about the series of events can be found here.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.