By Kim Smith
For the Mirror
Their perspectives may differ, but various faith groups are coming together for the second year to promote justice in Altoona.
Pastor John Gray (left), overseer of the 11th Street Project and pastor of Hope Community Church, and Randy Feathers, president of the Booker T. Washington Project Committee, are two of the featured panel speakers for the Signs of Justice Interfaith event. (Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec)
The Altoona Area Christian Coalition, in conjunction with the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona, will hold the second annual Signs of Justice Interfaith event at 2 p.m. Jan. 17 at Altoona Area Junior High School auditorium.
The event is held close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, because of his work for justice and racial equality.
The Rev. Betty Landis, pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, said the event is two-pronged with a panel of guest speakers offering snapshots of signs of justice in the Altoona area, as well as looking at signs of justice that occurred in the past.
A representative from St. Luke's Episcopal Church will talk about the likelihood that the church was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Randy Feathers, president of the Booker T. Washington Project Committee, will talk about improvements made to the Booker T. Washington playground.
Dr. Zane Gates will discuss Evergreen Manor, growing up in the area and his opportunities to become a physician and establish a free clinic to help people in need. Other panelists are Pastor John Gray, overseer of the 11th Street Project and pastor of Hope Community Church, and Ken Womack, associate dean for academic affairs at Penn State Altoona.
Landis said different participants will offer prayers. Music will be provided by the Altoona Senior High School String Ensemble and an interfaith youth choir. The choir will sing one song and youths interested in participating may do so by attending a rehearsal at 1 p.m. Jan. 17 in the junior high choir room.
Landis said the event will reinforce the connection people of different faiths have through God.
"We live in a time where too often we are pushed into our corners, reminded what our differences are," she said.
"We've been endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. We need to learn to work together and look for a brighter future - do the work God wants us to do."
Bill Wallen, director of the Greater Altoona Jewish Federation, said, the emphasis will be on examples of justice. He said the after-school programs are an example of promoting justice in the city.
"How can we help young children to feel part of their community, get support from their community and grow into fully-functioning, successful adults?" he asked.
Wallen said the concept of justice is seen in the Hebrew Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and pillars of Islam.
"So many faiths talk about and preach about the importance of reaching out and helping others," he said. "We're all commanded from the beginnings of the Hebrew Scriptures to take care of widows and the poor."
The Rev. Brian Saylor, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, said justice and faith go hand-in-hand.
"I think all of us have an interest in equality among all people," he said. "We're all created in God's image.