PHOTO: Rev. Kenneth Hill, head pastor of Shorter Chapel AME Church, one of Franklin’s oldest congregations.
By BROOKE WANSER
Franklin and Williamson County faith, business and civic leaders have come together to create a nonprofit, Unite Williamson, and host the city’s first interfaith prayer breakfast on Saturday, Oct. 20.
In 2015, the fatal shootings of nine congregants in a black Charleston church spurred action across Franklin.
Franklin’s historic Shorter Chapel AME Church, which celebrated 150 years this summer, organized a citywide prayer vigil.
Shorter Chapel is one of the sister churches to Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
After the vigil, Head Pastor Rev. Kenneth Hill said Mayor Ken Moore called him into his office.
Moore said the vigil inspired his vision for a community-wide initiative to promote interfaith communication and respect.
“If something like this ever happened in the future, we’d be able to call leadership together and react appropriately,” Hill added.
“It was something I felt was really important,” Moore said.
They created Unite Williamson, registered as an LLC under Franklin Tomorrow’s 501(c)(3) status banner.
Moore is chairing the group, while Hill serves as vice chair.
Moore said event planners are prepared for up to 500 attendees at the event next Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. The keynote speaker will be Franklin Police Chief Deborah Faulkner.
Tickets are $5, and can be purchased on Eventbrite. The event is open to the public.
During more than a year of planning, treasurer Lynne McAlister said they contacted 200 faith-based organizations and churches in Williamson County.
At first, “We coined a letter, and we didn’t know who was going to show up at the meeting,” Hill said.
Over the year, the numbers of those involved grew to include leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths.
“I felt that if we’re talking about uniting peoples, then we have to unite all peoples,” Hill said. “Everyone has to sit at the table if we’re talking about reconciliation. To break down the barriers that keep us separated, not just along racial lines, but along religious lines. We didn’t want to just say this would be a Christian event,” he continued. “We saw this as a coalition that would bring together all segments of faith traditions be represented and feel welcome.”
The event was originally slated to be held at Harlinsdale Farm, but had to be moved to the Eastern Flank Battlefield Park due to weather damage during Pilgrimage Festival.
Hill said he recognized the concern that the Civil War site might be “unsettling” to some.
“We should do it, even though it might be a little unsettling, that might be a perfect place to begin reconciliation and healing in Williamson County,” he said. “All citizens, black and white, must be custodians of our war and of our history.”
“In a way, because we hope for this to be about reconciliation and forgiveness, I think actually the location is going to be fine,” McAlister said. “We all have a shared belief that is more powerful than the paths that divide us.”
“God is bigger than one tradition,” Hill agreed, laughing. “God bigger than all of us.”