Falmouth Clergy Association Makes PSA for Unmasking Racism

By Karen Hunter – Reporter, Falmouth Enterprise

“It made me weep,” Falmouth resident Laura A. Cole said of the “Unmasking Racism”video aired this week by the Falmouth Clergy Association.

“At this point in time, this message is so impactful. Now is the time to do what is right for humanity,” said Ms. Cole, who is a supporter of the LGBT community and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We’re in a very strange time of separation. It felt good, as a religious leader, to do something,” said the Reverend Carl E. Evans, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in Falmouth.

“One of our struggles as a clergy association is looking at doing something and not knowing what that would be,” he said.

The Reverend Nell Fields, pastor of the Waquoit Congregational Church, had the idea that the group could create a video to address the COVID-19 pandemic, showing that local clergy are all in this together and offering the message that people should not lose hope during these times.

Before they could put that together the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old Minneapolis Black man whose arrest and alleged murder by police has captivated the nation and reignited the Black Lives Matter movement, occurred.

“I knew we had had to do a public service announcement video against racism,” Ms. Fields said.

With that incentive, the Reverend Will H. Mebane Jr., pastor of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church who has a background in radio and television production, sat down and wrote the script.

“I had a moment of inspiration, and I produced a draft for the group’s consideration. They loved it,” Mr. Mebane said.

Wearing clergy collars and standing in front of their churches—or places of work in the case of Sally Miller, chaplain at Falmouth Hospital, and Saramaria Allenby, chaplain at Gosnold Inc.—they say their lines, looking into the video camera.

Masks. Why do we wear them? The video begins.

Yes, to protect against COVID-19. But the message continues.

“We also wear masks to prevent other people from knowing how we really feel and who we really are.

“We even wear masks to try to convince ourselves we are not who we know ourselves to be.

“We wear masks to hide the shadow side of our lives. That is the side that allows the pandemic or racism to spread its infection among family members, co-workers, neighbors and friends.”

“With the pandemic, it is crucial to the health of our communities and our country that we wear masks, but there will come a time when we no longer need to wear masks for COVID-19,” the Reverend Deborah M. Warner, pastor of Church of the Messiah in Woods Hole, said. “Our prayer is that there will come a time when we will no longer wear masks of any kind; when people will look at and honor their neighbors no matter who that is. I am very proud and pleased to be part of this video.”

“Every faith tradition has the command to love one another as a core tenant of its belief…

“We are called to respect the dignity of every human being. No exceptions.

“We strive for justice and peace among all persons. No exceptions.

“How do we do that?

“By removing the masks of hatred, racism, sexism, ableism, Islamophobia.

“By pulling off the masks that hide our xenophobia, ageism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny,” the clergy members say to the camera.

“People are waking up, and it felt good to be a little piece of that,” the Reverend Christina R. Williams, pastor of the North Falmouth Congregational Church, said of participating in the video.

“We felt united as a group of interfaith clergy. It was an authentic, heartfelt message for all of us. It is important to be part of this message that is so crucial to our country,” she said. “I hope people hear the fullness of the message. That no one is left out. I hope people hear that. We need love to really lift us up; all the major faith traditions say to love our neighbors. It is the hardest thing to do.”

Rabbi Elias J. Lieberman of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation said the clergy association had strong feelings about two things: the need to communicate the importance of wearing masks for protection against COVID-19 and the need to impart a message about racial justice.

Mr. Mebane seized on the metaphor about removing the masks of racism and went with it, Mr. Lieberman said.

Ms. Fields said the clergy group sees technology and video as ways to reach the wider Upper Cape community with important messages with the hope that change will come.

“It was the right message at the right time. You know you’re doing the right thing when it comes together that quickly,” she said.

The Reverend Rebecca B. Mincieli, pastor at John Wesley United Methodist Church, said she felt privileged to work with colleagues on a message of hope, peace and love coming from a foundation of faith.

“I hope it will be a source of unity and encouragement for our community,” she said.

“As a faith community, this is a very important message to get out,” Ms. Warner said. “There is an urgency in terms of the Black Lives Matter issue, and [the message is] important for all of us now in terms of racism in the life of our country.”

“If we could get folks to move into the message of love as a vaccine for our failing, suffering world, it would be a better place for all of us,” Mr. Mebane said.

“We are a shared humanity. We belong to one another, and we have to care for one another. We forget that all the time,” Ms. Allenby said.

The “Unmasking Racism” video was filmed by John T. Mortensen, senior director of Think-A-Tron who has worked with Falmouth Community Television.

Reached by telephone in the state of Washington where he now lives, Mr. Mortensen gave members of the clergy association great credit for their powerful delivery.

“I really enjoyed the concept,” he said of the video. “It meant a lot to me to work on the project, and I’m really very proud of it.”

“Falmouth Community Television is a proud partner of the Falmouth Clergy Association to disseminate the mask PSA in furtherance of our mission to expand civic engagement through local media,” chief executive officer Debra A. Rogers said by email. “This is the fundamental concept of public access and community media, to empower our community voices with the power of media to tell their story their way.”

Before the pandemic, the clergy association met in person once a month. Since the pandemic began, the group has been meeting once a week by Zoom call to talk about the pandemic and how they all are getting through it.

Ms. Fields said checking in with each other once a week has been a bonding, “transformative” experience in this “really tough, disorienting” time.

“We know we have all been doing a lot of heavy lifting, with congregations that are confused and scared,” she said. “These meetings are a safe place where we can express our feelings, support one another and share ideas. It reminds us that we’re not in this alone; that we are standing together for the wider Falmouth community regardless of denomination.”

“We have really come together because of these meetings,” Ms. Warner said. “It has solidified us, and I hope that will deepen going forward.”

The Reverend Jonathan D. Drury of Falmouth Congregational Church said he is grateful to have been part of a message that offered a voice of solidarity from members of the clergy.

He is not sure what the group will do in the future, but he said it might include more videos on topics relevant to Falmouth.

Ms. Fields said her vision is to see the Falmouth Clergy Association become “voices of hope” within the Falmouth community.

Mr. Evans said his hope as a faith leader is that people will see the video and realize that social justice really is an issue of faith.

“What we believe calls us to speak out. I hope people will note the connection between their church and the broader movement happening in the world,” Mr. Evans said.

As word of the Unmasking Racism video has spread, the response, according to members of the clergy, has been overwhelmingly positive.

The “Unmasking Racism” video concludes with these words: “Combating racism is even more challenging than defeating the coronavirus. One calls for us to remove our masks, while the other necessitates the wearing of masks. The objective of each is to prevent further harm being done to another. We do each out of love for one another. Love is the vaccine we give each other.”