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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

At 1 Ohio church, congregants disagree, but still break bread

A service at the Lower Miami Church of the Brethren in Dayton, Ohio, June 26, 2022. The congregants, split roughly evenly between Black and white members, with a few Latino worshippers, were divided about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but they still broke bread together.

By Kevin Williams

This small, unassuming brick church on a rural highway in southwest Ohio is accustomed to making bold statements.

Although the Lower Miami Church of the Brethren sits in a deeply conservative area, Black Lives Matter and Pride banners flap out front of a building that has offered itself as a sanctuary for immigrants.

Brethren churches are historically known as “peace churches” for their pacifist beliefs and this one — which survived the War of 1912, the Great Depression and the rise of the megachurches during its 217-year history — was one of the first to integrate in this part of Ohio.

But when it comes to the abortion ruling handed down Friday, the church will consider this issue like every other one they have tackled, according to Rev. Tracy Knechel Sturgis, the interim pastor. That means slowly, deliberately and prayerfully — an approach that has allowed this small church to make things work in an increasingly polarized United States.

The tiny congregation is split roughly evenly between Black and white members, with a handful of Latino worshipers. And while the church’s stances have historically been progressive, there are a range of views here.

Sharon Sampson, 77, said she was “totally” in favor of the Supreme Court’s decision. “I don’t believe in harming innocent children,” she said. Meanwhile, the church’s worship leader, Terri Griffith, called herself “disillusioned” by the verdict. “This Supreme Court is dangerous,” she said.

On Sunday, they worshipped together and shared in a potluck after church. It was a particularly special occasion — this was the first time the congregation held their regular meal together since the pandemic began.

Sturgis said the church needed time to reflect on the decision but that its mission is to provide comfort to anyone who needs it, regardless of political views.

“We are all called to help someone who needs comfort,” she said. “We believe in something bigger than ourselves.”

Sturgis expanded on this theme in her sermon when she talked about the effects of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions about guns and abortion. She asked the congregation to listen to one another and spread kindness regardless of their views.

“Empathy requires us to suspend our egos and live in another world,” she said. “This type of understanding is what we have been cultivating through the years of our faith journey.”

And with that, services concluded — and the diverse congregation came together to break bread.

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