BY MAT CLOUSER
BRANDON — This past Sunday in Brandon was idyllic. Bird song mingled with a cool breeze causing a lazy ripple in the canopy of trees that lines the streets. A few luminous clouds sauntered across the blue sky above. And yet, for the nearly 20 people gathered in front of St. Thomas Episcopal Church, something graver was afoot.
Sunday, June 5, was of two-fold importance to most of the crowd gathered there in silence. Many wore red in observance of Pentecost, and the crimson nature of their attire served as a stark reminder of the second item at hand.
For the past two years, St. Thomas’s churchgoers have gathered on Sundays, rain or shine, from 1-to-1:30 p.m. to hold a silent vigil against racism.
“It began in the wake of the murder of George Floyd,” said St. Thomas’s Senior Warden Franci Farnsworth. “The Episcopalian Diocese of Vermont sent a letter urging us to stand against racism.”
Transitional Priest Lyn Burns recently moved to Brandon from Colorado to be closer to her grandchildren. “These vigils are not only happening in Vermont,” she said. “But all across the nation—even in overwhelmingly white states like Vermont and Colorado.”
“We understand that by holding a silent vigil, the change we make may come slowly,” said Farnsworth. “We don’t expect to change the world in a day. We want to be a part of helping people consider how they might do more to combat racism in society.”
Racism, systemic and otherwise, is a smoldering topic at the forefront of many local and national conversations, and it’s something the church aims to continue working against.
“These systemic issues are all around us,” said Burns, who was born and raised in South Africa. “I’m no stranger to racism. The church acknowledges its role in perpetuating some of those issues. We are not immune from that, but we wish to make a difference moving forward.”
Both Burns and Farnsworth acknowledged that the issues surrounding racialization and systemic racism extend beyond faith into the fiber of society. Nations worldwide are struggling in their attempt to reckon with the fallout of historically racist practices stemming from settler colonialism and beyond.
“This vigil is now an official, registered part of our church services,” said Farnsworth. “But we want everyone to know that they are welcome to join us regardless of their faith. We had one new person join today. We know it may feel awkward or uncomfortable to some, but we think it’s essential to be seen doing this kind of work.”
As for what happens during those 30 minutes of silence, Farnsworth says there has been no direct discussion from the church with the participants. “People are simply invited to think, pray, meditate, or hold signs. We don’t care, so long as we can get more folks to carry with them the idea of trying to be anti-racist.”
During the vigil, traffic crept along Route 7 in both directions. The whizz of cars, mixed with the breeze and the birds, was occasionally broken by the horn of a passerby honking in approval. A few people stopped to watch or wave hello. Enthusiastic thumbs-ups shot out from the windows of other cars.
A trio of teenagers on skateboards passed by. First, they went up the hill, heading north towards Pearl Street. Later, they skated back down the hill past The Bookstore. “Y’all are awesome!” shouted one of them, shredding around the bend before disappearing into the halcyon whispers of Neshobe Falls.