Last Saturday evening Lynn and I had a truly wonderful time at an event that is apparently new to the University of Rhode Island: the “Praise Him No Matter What” gospel concert, proclaimed by the organizers as the first gospel concert to hit the URI campus. The talent on display that night was truly amazing! And there was lot of talent in evidence – the concert went from around 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. We enjoyed every minute of a program that included music, dance, poetry, and testimonies.
There is another reason that Saturday night was special. I would guess that over 95% of those in attendance (and main level of Edwards was nearly full) were people of color, including a lot of URI students. The warmth, support, affirmation, and enthusiasm among everyone there was simply inspiring. It was a great example of community in action – an event based on community, where all were welcomed, supported, and affirmed. The community represented at the concert was part of multiple, larger communities: including the University of Rhode Island and other colleges, Providence and other towns across New England, and the community of faith. All of the communities represented were tied together by the concert.
Communities of faith, although certainly not for everyone, can be very supportive of efforts to build communities across many common and problematic dividing lines. The University of Rhode Island is fortunate to have many communities of faith that contribute in multiple ways to building a supportive campus environment.
Of course, religious convictions can be a terribly divisive force – but they need not be. Faith can be a strong and positive force for community and justice, for compassion, mercy, and understanding, and for hope. For me, that was the central message of “the first gospel concert to hit URI”.