EASTHAMPTON — A week and a half after racist and hateful graffiti was discovered on top of Mount Tom, faith leaders and concerned citizens gathered to cleanse the mountain with prayer.
Some 40 people trudged up the mountain for a 30-minute interfaith ceremony. Members of the crowd spoke against bigotry, sang songs and gave readings about the importance of love over hate.
Wearing the red sash of his office, Douglas Fisher, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, spoke to those assembled on the mountaintop Saturday.
“We do not believe hatred is God’s will, but rather is a sign that something is profoundly out of balance,” he said. “We are here to grieve the loss and proclaim our belief that hatred, violence and death are not the end, not the last word.”
Shortly following Election Day, Facebook photos appeared showing hateful graffiti on the mountain, including swastikas and calls to violence against Jewish people and African-Americans.
Amber Black was one of the people who climbed the mountain after seeing photos of the graffiti online. As she watched volunteers wash the rocks last week, she had an idea.
“A vision came to me,” Black said.
Black said she envisioned draping bed sheets on the rocks, to cover the sight of the graffiti. She wanted to spread something soft over the hard rocks and the hard messages, she said.
Black and other volunteers painted colorful messages on bed sheets and brought them up the mountain Saturday. They draped the sheets on the rocks.
“Let’s blanket hate with love,” Black said. “Put bigotry to bed.”
Reclaiming the spaceMembers of all faiths were invited to speak during the blessing. Two men read a statement from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield Mitchell T. Rozanski, and several members of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts spoke.
A man read the Litany of Reclamation in Spanish and invited the crowd to respond in English. A member of the service lit a candle as others spoke.
Robert A. Jonas, founder and director of The Empty Bell, a sanctuary in Northampton, played the Japanese bamboo flute. Jonas is a scholar of the Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
Deacon Eric Elley, of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Longmeadow, said he was unsure if he could hike all the way to the top of the mountain.
But as he watched the group congregate and charge upward, Elley felt compelled to bear witness, he said.
Peter Wells, a retired minister who lives in Springfield, agreed the hike was a worthy challenge.
“It was a hard hike, but it was nowhere near as hard as we have struggled for equality and freedom,” Wells said. “We don’t want the momentum or the progress to stop, or for hate to take root and grow in people’s hearts.”
Wells, 69, proudly wore a sweatshirt from the Adirondack 46ers hiking club, of which he is a member. He climbed some of the highest Adirondack peaks when he was younger, he said, and was happy to dust off his hiking boots and head up Mount Tom.
“We have to do something positive in the face of negativity,” Wells said.
Toward the end of the service, Fisher invited people to raise their arms toward the mountain while he read a prayer aloud.
“Good and gracious God, let us forever be witnesses to the power of your saving grace,” Fisher read. “May the legacy of the hatred expressed here give each of us a new resolve … This is our world, our earth, our sacred home.”