Nearly 200 pairs of hands were raised inside Old South Church on Sunday as the clergy and congregation blessed 1,000 delicate origami cranes bound for a Missouri church working to heal a fractured community.
“O God, when we first laid eyes on these cranes, they were prayers for peace in this city crying out for peace,” prayed the Rev. John M. Edgerton. “But you, you have transformed them. . . . We have been audacious enough to pray both for justice and for peace for the people of Boston, and that is our prayer for the people of Ferguson, Missouri.”
The folded paper birds, vividly colored in a wild array of patterns, came to Old South Church last year, after bombs exploded just yards away as runners crossed the Boston Marathon finish line. In the past three years, they have traveled more than 1,100 miles carrying prayers for peace to three communities shaken by violent killings.
A Wisconsin congregation created the cranes, symbolizing peace, for the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then passed them on to a Chardon, Ohio, church after the February 2012 shootings at Chardon High School.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., that December, the cranes traveled to Newtown Congregational Church, which hand-delivered them to Boston following the Marathon bombings.
Old South Church chose to send the cranes to Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo., following the fatal shooting Aug. 9 in neighboring Ferguson, of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer and ensuing demonstrations that have erupted in violent clashes between protesters and police.
Church leaders hope to have a representative fly with the cranes to Missouri and hand-deliver them to the congregation during next Sunday’s worship service.
Edgerton, 32, said church members feel connected to residents of these St. Louis suburbs in part because, like Bostonians in the aftermath of the bombings, they have been the subject of national and international attention. And much as Boston experienced an outpouring of support following the attacks, he believes Bostonians have an obligation to offer their support.
“The care and the love that really came to Boston from around the country as the result of the Boston Marathon bombings, I think that that was amazing,” he said, “and it puts on us as a city the responsibility to try to be healers in the country.”
The Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, pastor of the Missouri church, said in a phone interview that the gift of the cranes was deeply meaningful for her and the congregation.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” Blackmon said. “It’s a constant, tangible reminder that there are others that are praying with you and you’re not alone.”
In the days since Brown’s death, Blackmon said, her church sponsored a community prayer vigil that included leaders from many faiths and denominations and has organized a community forum attended by Ferguson’s mayor and chief of police, Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri, and other elected officials.
“It was a good opportunity for members of the community to be able to hear directly from them and ask questions about things that concerned them,” she said.
As tensions continue to roil the community, she said, the church is gathering signatures on petitions to change local laws and to recall some elected officials. It is also helping to connect mental health counselors and prayer partners with residents who have experienced trauma amid the violence, she said.
“We have to care for the caretakers, because this is going to be a long battle,” Blackmon said. “To be honest with you, if a policeman wants to come get prayer, that’s fine too. . . . There is no us-against-them. This is a right-against-wrong fight.”
At Old South Church, Brookline resident Deb Washington said it was moving to her, as “an African-American person in this congregation . . . that we can send a symbol of healing to a community that is in desperate need of some sort of statement that somebody cares.”
Washington, 62, said violence in Ferguson brought back memories from her youth in Louisiana. “I grew up in the Jim Crow South, so my immediate reflection is, here comes the ’60s again,” she said. “Instead of using firehoses, now we’re using tear gas. . . . It’s just repeated history with different kinds of weapons. But the issues remain the same.”
Flo Charles, 45, said sending the cranes to Missouri was consistent with the theme of Sunday’s sermon: inclusion of all people — regardless of race, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender identity — in the family of God.
“We should pray for the peace of the earth, of the whole world,” said Charles, daughter of a British mother and a West African father. “These cranes are like a symbol of Christ, symbolizing Christ’s message — of love.”