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TONIGHT: Local Religious Leaders Organize Interfaith Candlelight Vigil Following Saturday’s Shooting in Pittsburgh

By Nathan Ham

On Monday evening, church members of different faiths across the High Country will gather at First Baptist Church in Boone for a candlelight march down King Street mourning the victims of Saturday’s deadly shooting in Pittsburgh.

A gunman later identified as Robert Bowers, 46, killed 11 people and wounded two others inside the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday morning. Four police officers were also injured in the shooting. Bowers was taken into custody.

Roy Dobyns, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Boone, quickly offered up his church as a starting location for this evening’s march to the Temple of the High Country.

“We are part of the same family, so when one is hurt, we all are hurt. I think we all express our faith differently, we have different beliefs and even worship differently, but this was a hit on a group of people because of their religion,” Dobyns said. “When one brother hurts, we all hurt.

Kurt Love, the President of the Temple of the High Country, is happy to see the religious leaders of the area coming together as one.

“I feel all of us here in the High Country are blessed to have the leadership of the Multi-Faith Clergy and Leaders Group, religious leaders in our community who are all deeply committed to seeing past individual labels of denomination and helping all of us recognize our common humanity,” said Love. “I feel we’re further blessed to have such a community that largely feels the same way and that’s what I hope people will take away from this vigil, that most people are truly people of good will, who find these acts of hatred and violence abhorrent and wrong.”

Dobyns felt that bringing hope through such troubled times was important for all religious followers.

“The message I want people to see is that we’re trying to be a light where it’s dark and we’re trying to make a statement of hope and encouragement,” he said. “The reason that you do a candlelight vigil is to bring light to the darkness and the reason you walk and stand is to be a sign of encouragement.”

Monday night’s event will feature prayers, songs and candles as people of different faiths come together in unity against the hatred and anti-Semitism that is plaguing the country, even here in the High Country. Just this month, anti-Semitic graffiti was spray-painted on the walls of one of the pedestrian tunnels on Appalachian State’s campus.

“We must recognize that a few people remain in our midst who harbor hatred and resentment. They look for the easy target. They seek out the vulnerable and defenseless. Be vigilant for these people, and when you recognize one, don’t shun him. Engage him. Talk to him, first about the small things, things that establish what he has in common with you. Then, when you can, mention your black friend or your Jewish neighbor who helped you out when you were in trouble,” said Love. “It’s uncomfortable work. It’s easier to walk away. But if you shun that person, the only voices he’ll hear are the voices of hate, and at this time in our country’s history, those voices are growing.”

Love says that the Temple of the High Country has been heightening their security over the past two years.

“We at the Temple of the High Country enjoy tremendous support from our local law enforcement agencies. The chances of a Squirrel Hill incident succeeding in Boone are slim, but we’re always looking for ways to improve, and we welcome the support of our neighbors,” said Love. “We place a high premium on maintaining a sanctuary, a safe space for our Jewish community and everyone who approaches us with a heart for learning, understanding and compassion.”

The march will begin on the steps of First Baptist Church, located at 375 West King Street, at 5:30 p.m. The candlelight march will continue on to the Temple of the High Country. For those unable to make the walk down King Street, you can still take part in the vigil at the temple when marchers arrive around 6 p.m. The Temple of the High Country is located at 1043 West King Street.

The names of those killed in Saturday’s shooting.