2016-06-23 / Front Page

Congregations unite in support of Pulse victims

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SACO/OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Several religious communities came together Sunday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saco for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub.

Members of the church as well as those from Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church and Circle of Hope Community Church of Portland held candles and shared their views and feelings about the June 12 shooting in which gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 before being shot by police inside the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

“Most people I talk to still feel a little numb, some have anger, a lot are reaching out to one another,” said Michael Gray, pastor at Old Orchard Beach United Methodist Church.

Gray, who lives in Old Orchard Beach, said he was contacted by Tom Muise, a member of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Saco and leader of the Southern Maine Gay Men’s Group, about holding an event to honor the victims. About 30 people attended the vigil.

Muise, a Biddeford resident, said members of his congregation turned to him to organize an event to recognize the event.

“A couple members of my congregation looked at me and said, ‘You should do something,’” Muise said. “I was devastated (by the shooting). I used to work at a gay bar in Boston and we used to look for people like (Mateen).”

Gray said Muise contacted him about doing a joint service.

“The opposite of hate is love, but the opposite of love is also fear. My job as clergy is to help people to love,” Gray said. “That’s being open, being vulnerable – all the things people don’t want to be when tragedy strikes. We want to be bold but need to be humble.”

Mark Henderson of Biddeford said people go to gay clubs because they feel safe about their identities there.

“The whole thing for us is, it feels like a safe place, and then having that safe place torn apart,” Henderson said. “One of the ways to proceed is that we all want to be more tolerant of everyone else, not just gay or straight, but everyone be more tolerant of everyone else.”

Russ Tremblay of East Waterboro and a pastor at Circle of Hope Community Church, said even though the gay community has made progress with civil rights in recent years, education is still needed to prevent future occurrences similar to the Orlando shooting.

Editor’s note: The Courier honored an organizer’s request to not take photos at the event.

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