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Congregate Charlottesville Calling Plan for Interfaith Response to 'Unite the Right' Rally

Posted: Updated: Jul 31, 2017 05:17 PM
Members of Congregate Charlottesville holding a news conference Members of Congregate Charlottesville holding a news conference
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Charlottesville clergy members are laying out their plans to counter a planned August rally at Emancipation Park.

Members of Congregate Charlottesville gathered on the steps of St. Paul's Memorial Church of the University of Virginia Monday, July 31, to announce events that the group will be hosting the weekend of August 12th.

White activist Jason Kessler plans to hold an event in support of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that Saturday. Kessler believes hundreds of people will show up in support his Unite the Right rally, including members and leaders of the alt-right movement.

Authorities have told NBC29 that they expect thousands of people to crowd the area in and around Emancipation Park at day, including many counterprotesters.

Congregate Charlottesville plans to host an interfaith, mass service at 8 p.m. Friday, August 11, at St. Paul's Memorial Church.

"We are happy to open our doors on the evening of Friday, August 11th, for a mass prayer meeting - much in the spirit of the old Civil Rights marches - the night before they would gather to sing and to pray," said Reverend Elaine Ellis Thomas.

Black Lives Matter will also host a meeting prior to the park rally, and is calling on the community and Charlottesville City Council to attend.

"We will be holding a people's assembly in lieu of a City Council meeting, and we would like to invite the community to come and air grievances and express concern about the 12th," said University of Virginia professor Dr. Jalane Schmidt.

On the day of the rally, Congregate Charlottesville plans to march down East Jefferson Street to be present at Emancipation Park during Kessler’s rally.

Group members said they want to use biblical scripture as a message of "inclusiveness instead of hate."

"We must pray and work to dismantle white supremacy within ourselves, in our congregations, and in our communities. August 12th is a great opportunity for people of faith to begin this long and deep work of liberation and justice," said Congregate Charlottesville Lead Organizer Brittany Caine-Conley with Sojourners United Church.

The faith-based group is working with the Charlottesville Police Department in order to prevent issues during the rally.

"We need to know that we're going to be safe, that we're not going to be attacked by our own police and that our First amendment rights are recognized," said Brenda Brown-Grooms with New Beginnings Christian Community.

Congregate Charlottesville also plans to host classes on diversity and white supremacy after the weekend ends in order to continue a "desperately needed conversation."

"We're going to have to live with each other after the 12th of August, and we are making preparations to do just that,” said Brown-Grooms.

In a statement to NBC29, Kessler said:

Most of these so-called "faith leaders" are from Unitarian churches that don't even believe in God. They're open Communists disguising their political activity in a veneer of religiosity. They're scam artists and should have their IRS tax exemption revoked.

Congregate Charlottesville is also receiving support from the city's First Baptist ChurchRestoration Village Arts, and St. Paul's Memorial, an Episcopal church, as well as other denominations. Presbyterian Voices For Justice posted on Facebook a request for prayers and in-person support for the group.