Faith leaders mourn Pittsburgh shooting, support local Jewish community with candlelight vigil


Rabbi Stephen Roberts and Rev. Roy Dobyns sing together at the candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburg.

Anna Muckenfuss, Appalachian Weekly News Producer

The High Country Multi-Faith Leaders hosted a candlelight vigil to mourn and denounce hate on Monday after the Shabbat killings in Pittsburgh.

The candlelight vigil started at First Baptist Church of Boone on King Street, where there were songs and prayers before participants and the clergy marched down King Street to the Temple of the High Country.

For over a year the High Country Jewish community has directly been expressing to the High Country Multi-Faith Clergy and Leaders group its fear of being targeted in an act of anti-Semitic violence according to the event’s Facebook page.

Leaders from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, The First Baptist Church and Temple of the High Country spoke at the Vigil.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts said that the clergy are struggling with how to respond to the three anti-semitic incidents in the High Country.

“When the massacre on Shabbat happened, it was clear as leaders that we wanted to do something,” Roberts said. “We wanted to do something publicly as faith leaders, not just the Jewish community.”

Reverend Cyndi Banks said the candlelight vigil was not meant to be a protest and that there weren’t going to be any signs or chants. Banks said she hoped the vigil would give those in the High Country a silent space to reflect.

“The goal of the event was solidarity and presence and to join this community with their mourning,” Banks said. “I wanted us to set a tone that would be spacious, where we could be reflective and come together as a community instead of all the ways that divide us.”

Roberts said he hoped the vigil would communicate the High Country Multi-Faith Clergy and Leader’s message of saying no to hate and yes to love as loudly as possible.

“We, a people of faith, of all colors, of all genders, of all faith traditions, we denounce hate whether it is anti-semitism, racism, or hate of the other, there is no place for hate in this community,” Roberts said.

Rebekah Smyre and Betsy Kelly, two App State students who attended the vigil, said they went to support the Jewish community.

“Things like this shouldn’t be happening,” Smyre, freshman elementary education major, said. “It’s important to show that someone will have support, and that they are loved, and that not everyone thinks the same way.”

Kelly, freshman political science major, said she had close friends in the Jewish community and she felt unified with people at the vigil.

“It created a home community where everyone was together,” Kelly said.

Carolina Stahlschmidt, a Pittsburgh native, said they attended the candlelight vigil to promote peace.

“I think it’s amazing and so inspiring to see that the faith leaders have good relationships with each other and that they all came out and brought their congregations and members and let those barriers not be barriers,” Stahlschmidt said. “It’s really remarkable and inspiring.”

Heidi Campbell, a counselor at the Counseling Center, said she attended the vigil on behalf of the counseling center, and to stand up against hate and in support of inclusivity, love and peace.

“I work with and support students from diverse backgrounds,” Campbell said. “I think that the numbers of people who are here and the positivity, and that, we can in a short amount of time bring together in our small community, should give us hope.”

Roberts said it is important for students to share their feelings about the events in Pittsburgh and let others know there is no place for hate in the High Country.

“As students, you are our future leaders,” Roberts said. “It is important that students know that the leaders of faith communities consider App State part of our community. We don’t see it as App State and Boone, we see it as the High Country.”

Story by Anna Muckenfuss 

Photos by Anna Muckenfuss 

Featured photo caption:  Rabbi Stephen Roberts and Rev. Roy Dobyns sing together at the candlelight vigil in honor of the victims of the synagogue shooting in Pittsburg.