The following words were composed by members of First United Methodist Church who were present on August 12, 2017. Their first-hand accounts of what they saw and experienced are presented here as a witness to the overwhelming love, grace, and mercy of Jesus Christ and the continuing call to make disciples for the transformation of the world.


Cindy Poots Remington: When the call went out for volunteers to help at our church on August 12, the day of the “Unite the Right” rally, I had mixed feelings.  Stay home, away from the potential danger of the 5000 white supremacists expected to attend or stand against the display of hatred and racism in the name of Christian love? 

Debates with my husband about the safety of volunteering just contributed to my confusion.  Ignore the threat and hope the lack of attention would diffuse the issue?

But I couldn’t stay home when people outside of our small city threatened to create chaos in the name of hatred.  I couldn’t stay home after seeing the line of men carrying torches on UVA grounds the night before. Aren’t we called to resist evil in any form it presents itself?  I’m not a brave person, but how could I stay home?

So we went.  My husband, Wayne, wouldn’t let me go alone so he accompanied me, ready to protect me in the event danger presented itself.  And danger did present itself, in the faces of white men who claimed that their lives and “heritage” were being threatened by people of color.  Who carried confederate flags and wore hoods--but not over their faces anymore. Nazis who called out hatred against our Jewish friends, and said they were going to torch the synagogue.

How on earth did I find my way into such a huge mess?  This was surreal. And what did it matter that I was there at all at a place of sanctuary?  What was I really doing there?  Had God really called me?

My job was just to keep people from going into parts of the church that were off limits to the public.  But another volunteer handed me a phone that was left on the premises, so I waited for the owner to come and claim it.  It rang a few times, and when I finally answered it the person on the other end asked for Heather, and asked me to look for her in the church.  With so many people coming and going, that wasn’t possible.  I put the phone away.

People came to us after apparently being sprayed with tear gas.  Tear gas!!  I didn’t know how painful tear gas could be:  I was too young for the civil rights movement and my experience at the Women’s March (my very first protest) in D.C. earlier in the year was peaceful.  But on this day, August 12, 2017, we had to pull people in from the front steps of the church several times when tear gas was used in the park across the street.  On lock down.  Was this for real?

Men and women in riot gear right outside the front doors of our building.  People with bats and hateful signs yelling at the counter-protesters, who were yelling back.

Then we heard there was a bad car accident a few blocks away, and people began to pour into our church, some weeping, some scratched up and bleeding, all stunned and scared. A 13 year old was hit by a car.  No, an adult was.  No one had facts, but a video that my daughter in Texas sent me showed a car plowing into a group of peaceful protestors.  It was horrific.

Then the phone rang again.  “Heather’s lost phone,” I answered.  “This is her brother,” was the response. “Is she there?”  I explained the situation to him and we made arrangements to have his mother pick up the phone at church the next morning.  The day wound down.  My own phone rang, and it was Heather’s brother.  “My sister is DOA.”

What words do you say to a stranger on the phone who has just lost his sister to a hateful person?  How do you respond? I am not equipped to deal with that, just as I wasn’t equipped to deal with a person driving by our church parking lot with a gun pulled and pointed at us.  I wasn’t equipped to deal with people claiming “blood and earth,” or people shouting slurs at our Jewish friends.  I was not equipped to deal with people who had carried torches reminiscent of lynching crowds years past, who threatened all of us who were on the side of equality and love. I only showed up that day because I thought it was the right thing to do.

We did what Jesus would have done by offering comfort and care to those who needed it.

The memories of this day will be with me for the rest of my life.  The memories of the faith community standing brave and strong in the face of hatred and danger will warm my heart and give me strength.  The example of God’s love to our community through the clergy and men and women of God will never be forgotten. I am extremely proud of our church for doing the right thing on this day, and humbled that I was able to participate.

Thank God that First UMC stood firm and offered sanctuary that day.


Bill Clarke:   “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14)

Last summer we experienced some tough times here in Charlottesville as both the KKK (July 8) and the Alt-Right (Aug 12) decided to hold rallies here, allegedly to protest the decision of city council to remove the statues of Lee and Jackson from their current location within city parks.. Those of us who heard the voices of these groups agree that little was said about those statues. Instead both groups spewed forth vicious hate speech directed towards our African American and Jewish brothers and sisters.

On both occasions, we, First United Methodist, opened our doors to provide a safe place for prayer, mediation, rest and water for those who came to oppose the voices of hate. It would have been far easier for us to have ignored the crowds, closed our doors, stayed home and pretended that nothing of importance to us was occurring. But we knew that would not be how Jesus would have acted. And so a group of volunteers hosted hundreds of people during both events. Pastors from our church and other places of worship conducted prayer services and music was provided by several congregations.

The Aug 12 rally took place directly across from our church. Streets on three sides of the church were blocked to vehicular and foot traffic. The only way to enter the church was through the parking lot. Our concern for safety led us to screen ID’s of everyone entering, examine backpacks and use metal detecting wands to prevent weapons from entering the church. In addition to facilities, food, drink, and prayer, we permitted medics to set up stations in our parking lot for tear gas decontamination and for emergency care of the injured. We also gave mental health counsellors a place within the church to tend to the emotional distress of those who had been injured or were seriously disturbed by the events. An inside station also was set-up where snacks and water could be taken out to those on the streets in need.

Even before the scheduled start of the rally we heard the rhythmic chanting of epithets of hate against African Americans and Jews as the Alt-Right marched to the park. We braced ourselves for violence and violence occurred early and repeatedly. An altercation between two men on First Street next to our parking lot grew from two to thirty combatants in about 5 seconds. There were injuries treated in our first aid station. Tear gas was released by the Alt-Right ralliers in the park and began to enter our Sanctuary. The doors were quickly closed. Several persons were hosed down throughout the afternoon in our decontamination center.  A cell phone was found in our parking lot, apparently dropped by someone leaving our safe space. The phone was called by a man who was inquiring about the safety and whereabouts of his sister. We had no information to share with him Later in the afternoon he called back to report that his sister, Heather Heyer, had died on the way to UVA hospital, the victim of malicious vehicular homicide.  Thirty others had been injured. Distraught persons who had observed this tragedy were counselled by our mental health counsellors. As the afternoon drew to a close, I entered the cooled Sanctuary to observe a solitary man kneeling at our altar in prayer. About a dozen others sat quietly, resting, reflecting and praying.

Several of the volunteers were thanked by those who spent time in our safe spot. One lady said to me,  “Thank you for being here and doing this. I want to return here when things are quieter”. A pastor thanked another volunteer and remarked, “ This is the way to do church and I’m going to use you in my sermons”. Another pastor proclaimed “This is a downtown church!”. Following our Sunday afternoon worship service, a former member of our church who had retired elsewhere came up to me and said , “I remember when we made the decision to be a downtown church. Perhaps this was what we were meant to be here for.”

I believe that Aug 12 was “an Altar call” for our church. And we answered. It was not a time or place  appropriate for children or youth or for those physically unable to respond to dangerous situations quickly. But many who did not volunteer in person answered the call with prayer. The presence of the Holy Spirit was felt by all who participated. On Aug 12 we  were the church “for such a time as this”. I give thanks to our gracious God for being with us in the middle of this storm, walking beside us, holding our hands and giving us the courage and strength to care for those who are the victims of hate and discrimination. We were shown how to be the church for “such a time as this.”


Ann Pettigrew: While there were many disturbing and horrifying actions occurring on August 12, I witnessed at least one miracle.  I expected rain that day and prepared for it but did not expect the brutally hot sunny weather.  I was in the parking lot behind the tables working with the medical team.  As the day grew hotter and those needing respite increased in number, we began providing water and snacks at the front tables to those in need.  As the supply of water decreased in the parking lot, I asked Larry to bring out another case and then another and then another.  I don’t know how many trips he made to replenish the water-I lost count.  I began to realize that we were not running out of water.  I had seen what had been donated but it seemed that we were giving out far more than had been donated.  And Larry kept bringing them out.  It hit me that this was another “loaves and fishes” miracle (John 6:1-14).  We never ran out of water or snacks and had many cases left over for future needs.  I find that dwelling on this miracle makes me remember the events of August 12 as representative of C’ville and FUMC more than all the anger, hate and violence that occurred.


Irma Mahone: EVERYTHING shifted for me on Aug 12, when white supremacists attacked my beautiful city of Charlottesville, Va. However, that was the day I decided to join the church I had been attending for 2 years - First United Methodist Church, located directly across the street from the Lee statue. In spite of my cynicism about the church being relevant today, I was convinced that I wanted to join with this group of believers because they stepped up to the plate and provided a "safe space" for anyone that day. It was an honor to be a part of that.


Katy Brandt: Twelve hours in the sun. Checking IDs, handing out water, encouraging those seeking refuge, and sending well wishes and prayers with those leaving. It was all a blur.

Thinking back, it seems so surreal that we watched men and boys, in matching white polo shirt/khaki pants uniforms march down the street chanting Nazi chants and carrying Confederate flags and weapons. It felt like we had been transplanted into the past.

I didn’t tell my own family what I’d be doing that day. I knew they’d be too fearful, and I’d be preoccupied thinking about their worry. There was no room to be preoccupied. It was one of the scariest, and unfortunately, most traumatic, situations I’ve ever placed myself in. But I cannot imagine not being there that day. Seeing the small glimmer of hope on faces as people walked up and were told they could come in to rest, and could use the bathroom, made the day worth it then, and now. Knowing that we were the last place of solace Heather knew before her death, gives me some relief.

That day, the work leading up to it and stemming from it, has created the most fulfilling and rich community I’ve ever known. My eyes were opened to members of our Charlottesville community I’d never taken the time to truly see, or embrace, prior. To be told someone could see Jesus in me was not something I ever expected to hear. And that was the true meaning of our work on A12.

But the work isn’t over. I hope that A12 can be a turning point. A benchmark for where we’re starting. Unfortunately, there isn’t a finish line in sight. Standing in the parking lot of First UMC on A12, the Nazis became a peripheral focus. The young, the black, the LGBTQ, all the marginalized, the targeted ones, were the main focus for us. And they need to be the focus as we try and move on. The church was able to be a beacon of light on a very dark day. I hope First UMC continues to be the light for Charlottesville as we attempt to move society towards equality for everyone.


Larry Lambert: It was with reluctance I chose to serve this day at the church. Although I knew of the event and had been asked to serve that day I was not totally committed to helping. On Friday morning, August 11, I had a conversation with Pastor Phil about whether I should be there that Saturday. In a very kind way Phil said the right words to make me think I should help to provide this safe space at our church.

Then I saw the events at the University on August 11th on the 11 o’clock news and that brought serious concern to me once again. That night I prayed about serving at the church and felt it was my call to be there that morning as promised.

Harriet and I arrived at the church that day at about 8:00 a.m. on August 12th, it seemed to start out, for me at least, to be fairly calm and quiet morning. As I stood there with my friend Alex Pettigrew on remote parking lot duty (Village School); I thought this isn’t going to be so bad. That however was not to be the case that day. As the morning progressed, I was reassigned to parking lot duty at the church. I saw, what seemed like hundreds, of protesters, from both sides arriving in the downtown area and walking by the streets and sidewalks of our church. I thought “Wow! This is going to be a big deal”.

The day became surreal to me, but I felt God had placed me there to serve.

I was there in the church parking lot, serving water to the masses, giving directions, aiding the folks who needed medical help, providing snacks, restrooms, etc. I watched and observed people make sure that folks were cleared to go into the church, no weapons, etc. I saw a little of everything there in the streets near the church: skirmishes between nationalist, Nazis, alt-right and counter protesters. I saw injured protesters brought into medical tents, folks treated for pepper spray, tear gas, etc. Worst of all, I saw an alt-right protester brandish a firearm and begin waving it at opposing folks. This was our cue to get everyone who was out in the parking lot to safety inside the church until the all clear was sounded.

I worked alongside folks, who were clergy and laity, some of whom had come from Boston, Tennessee, from all over the country really. It felt good to be there helping and working alongside fellow Christians who knew it was the right thing to be there fighting hate and racism.

I can’t tell you the number of folks who expressed their gratitude to the volunteers for being there and providing this safe space. It was a blessing to everyone, those who received and to us volunteers who helped.

It was a long hard day, but in the end so glad I was there. This was a defining moment in my spiritual walk. I knew I was where I was supposed to be. So glad we were there to help and serve.


Conor Sipe:  "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  (John 1:5)

I admit that I went into the events of August 12th with a healthy dose of naiveté.  Leading up to the event, I was part of group tasked with planning First United Methodist's response and preparations for the actual day.  It was an extraordinary challenge to plan for an event when we had a fairly vague idea of who might show up at our church and what their intentions might be.  Nevertheless, we did our best to consider how to best put our congregation's mission of "Changing lives through Jesus Christ" into action as safely as possible.  In my head I pictured the "bad guys" in a park surrounded by barricades with police mediating any interactions with the "good guys."  Wow, I was wrong.

On Aug. 12th, Stefan Harris and I gamely headed to the church not knowing what to expect but ready to offer whatever help we could.  Our group set up tables in the parking lot to screen people coming into the church so that we could offer people peaceful sanctuary if things got tumultuous.  Early in the day as the crowds began to gather in preparation for the rally proper, I had a serious reality check.  A large group of young males in white shirts variously carrying wooden shields, flags, and clubs marched down 2nd street next to our parking lot heading for Emancipation Park.  I can only describe their demeanor as angry.  Looking back, I keep coming back to the question of what circumstances in their lives led them to this frame of mind.

The police had barricaded E. Jefferson St. so the white shirts could not enter the park by this route and had to turn around at the dead end.  Some protesters had followed them down the street, and the white shirts found themselves caught between the police line and a group of hostile people.  This led to a tense standoff between the two groups, and both began yelling at each other with increasing hostility.  Finally, the white shirts decided they were going to make their escape and break through the protestors, so they began to move en masse back toward the FUMC parking lot.  Pushing, yelling, fist fights, and screaming immediately broke out as the entire crowd surged back up the street*.

I was standing (foolishly in retrospect) at the flower bed on right corner of FUMC's parking lot.  Before I knew what was going on, the white shirts were coming right at me in their attempt to escape the area.  In the ensuing chaos, I looked down and saw they were trampling and tearing up the flowerbed as they raced across our parking lot.  All I could think of was this little patch of verdant life being trampled underfoot by anger, hatred, and despair.  In the heat of the moment, I tried to protect that bit of good (again, an extremely foolish decision) and was immediately shoved over the curb for my troubles.  The crowd dispersed after the white shirts made good on their retreat, no doubt to find another way into the park. 

The whole incident lasted less than a minute.  Nevertheless, it has stuck with me more than most anything else I saw on August 12th.  My encounter at the flowerbed encapsulates the events of the day for me--beauty in the face of anger and hate.  This is how I have come to view the important role that our church played on that bleak day.  Like Jesus Christ, FUMC was a sanctuary of peace, light, and life, a beacon of God's abundant love in the midst of hate and darkness.


Rev. Harry Kennon: "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me . . ." (Psalm 23)

They had gathered clandestinely the night before in the field behind old Memorial Gym on the grounds at UVa, a green space ironically called “Nameless Field”. From there they proceeded to the Lawn down which graduates proudly march each year to receive their degrees. But this march was different. These torch-wielding young men were not there to celebrate, but to intimidate. “You will not replace us!” they shouted in cadence with their footsteps. Their assault on the Rotunda and on the small band of students guarding the statue of Thomas Jefferson was only a prelude.

The following day, Aug 12, those of us gathered at First UMC witnessed wave after wave of heavily armed white supremacists marching past still chanting “You will not replace us” along with a variety of other racist and anti-Semitic slogans.

My first thought was, “Who is the ‘you’ and who is the ‘us’?” The “us” was fairly obvious - white men. It wasn’t difficult to deduce that the “you” were everybody else – blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews, LGBTQ – even the clergy who stood together to oppose them. I doubt any of them would admit it, but these were frightened young men, not just because they were outnumbered by counter–demonstrators on the streets of Charlottesville, but because they saw their “way of life”, their position of privilege as white people, particularly white men, eroding before their eyes.

So they marched, some pausing to chant their anti-Semitic vitriol in front of Temple Beth Israel, just up the street from the church as our Jewish neighbors worshipped. Fights broke out between the white supremacists and those opposing them, one in the corner of our church parking lot. In the wake of the violence, police declared the gathering in the park across the street from us to be an illegal assembly. The tear gas and pepper spray used to disburse the crowds in the park began wafting into our open front doors as we were wrapping up our interfaith worship service at about 11:45 am. Those volunteers and others who had been on the porch of the church rushed in to escape the sting of the spray.

Later, when Heather Heyer was run down and killed in the street a few blocks from the church, scores of mostly young people, some injured, some so traumatized they could barely talk, sought the shelter, the safety, the healing, and the comfort offered by the church. Heather had been at the church earlier in the day and lost her phone. One of our members found the phone and received word from Heather’s brother that she had been killed. Those monitoring police communications later informed us of the helicopter crash that killed the two officers who had flown overhead all day. Still later, clergy members who had been in the midst of the bedlam outside slowly filed into our sanctuary and silently prayed before departing.

One of our beloved hymns, “God of Grace and God of Glory” contains this stanza:

                        Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,

                        Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.

                        From the fears that long have bound us,

                        Free our hearts to faith and praise.

                        Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

                        For the living of these days,

                        For the living of these days.

It’s impossible in a short article to capture the strange mixture of trauma and grace that fateful day  provided. But in the face of evil and in the midst of chaos, the church stood tall, doors open to all who would enter in peace. As well we should.


Rev. Phil Woodson: As we continue to process the events of Aug. 12, there will be people who will talk about what happened in a way that demonstrates that they don’t yet understand who Jesus is. They will speak of yesterday’s horrors in a way that mislabels who Jesus is, where Jesus was, and what Jesus was doing.

Good people, Christians, even the disciples, can exhibit perplexing and disquieting fears that arise from mistakes and misapprehensions in their knowledge and understanding of who Christ is.

But as we see throughout Scripture, and as many can witness to from the 12th, our God is not only a God over the storm but a God in the storm.

When Jesus called Peter out onto the water, he essentially said, “Come. Come to me on the water. Come to me where the waves are high and the water is deep and cold. Come to me in the wind and rain. Come stand where I stand. Come do what I do. Come walk where I walk. And stand with me in the middle of this storm.”

To us, on Aug. 12, Jesus said, “Come. Come to me in the streets. Come to me where the gas stings your lungs. Come to me where people are bleeding. Come to me where the voices of white supremacy, Nazism and hate fill the air. Come to me where they carry torches. Come to me where your children are lining the streets with bats, shields and guns. Come to me where cars plow through crowds of pedestrians. Come stand where I stand. Come do what I do. Come walk where I walk. And stand with me in the middle of this storm, because wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I will also be there. And today, of all days -- in this city -- I need to be everywhere!”

Upon recognizing who and where Jesus was, Peter knew where he had to be, what he had to do and where he had to go. When your heart, mind and body truly long for the presence, grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, you will go to him. That’s how it is for people of faith. A pulling on our hearts to step out of the boat and submit fully to the power and freedom of Jesus Christ. And when you get to where Jesus is, you hold on tight and never let go.

See here too Peter’s faith and resolution: “If you tell me to, I will do it.” Such is the faith of the saints. People who ask for God’s ultimate will to be done and then actually go out and do it. People who, in their own way, like Peter, leave the safety of the ship and throw themselves into the jaws of death. People who choose to despise the threatening waves and demonstrate a strong dependence upon the power and word of Christ.

What difficulty or danger could really stand before such a faith and such a zeal? I am blessed and humbled to continually find myself in the presence of many of these modern saints.

On Aug. 12, I saw people from our city walk on the water.

I watched as our church volunteers, the many medical volunteers, people of faith and a number of police officers -- all who made God’s house a triage center for the physical and emotional pain of our city -- walked on the water. And as I’m sure each of these saints will verify, at the end of the day, every foot was dry.

It is my hope that in the coming days, weeks and months, as we review and discuss the egregious amount of sin that permeated our streets, we can recognize in each other the different stages of our faith development. It is my prayer that we can build up and encourage one another in our spiritual gifts and callings, because this is a battle that is far from over.

But please hear me: Aug. 12 was not a day for everybody to be at church. Please understand me: Aug. 12 was not a day for everybody to be at church.

If you stayed home and prayed -- good. Well done. Your prayers were felt and very much needed. We can’t all get out of the boat at the same time. We are not all made for that kind of work. But we are all made to do some kind of work and prayer is the highest level of work, as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. But prayer can take on many forms, and the people who were here yesterday exemplified that. Prayerfully discerning their tasks and positions, they each responded to the Spirit in their own ways. In a constant posture of prayer, they each walked across the water to Jesus on their own seas.

But if you stayed at home and brooded about “feeding the fire,” and if you are trying to make a case that all of this was caused by statues, city councilors, counterprotests, the First Amendment or something other than the underlying sins of fear and racism, and if you still strongly believe that the church, this church, God’s house, should have been closed up -- then we need to chat.

Because what happened here on Aug. 12 was nothing short of miraculous, and the courage and faith of the saints of God is not something that I will ever make excuses for or apologize for. Remember: there were Nazis in our town that day -- they are still here today – and three people died while defending our city from their hatred.

So let me be very clear: what we saw on Saturday was the full and unbridled result of racism and the complacency of a people who have been ignoring its growth -- hiding behind political terms that are used to justify its continued existence.

And I can now say with extraordinary certainty that God has brought me to this church, at this time, to work with like-minded servants to eradicate this infection from our souls. In the face of such overwhelming evil and hatred, there can be no middle ground. In the presence of such an inordinate amount of sin, anger and fear, there is but one recourse. And to clarify further, there is no “both sides” to what happened yesterday -- there were only those who came to destroy, intimidate and kill.

There was and is only one path forward, and that is the path of overwhelming love. On Saturday, that love took the form of flipping over tables to literally protect this building and those who sought sanctuary inside it.

And I am thankful for the many nameless groups of men and women with masks and broom handles who found refuge and respite in our parking lot, serving multiple times as a barrier for us against trucks, guns, and all kinds of evil.

I am also thankful for the support of the many law enforcement officers and emergency personnel who communicated openly and honestly with our church, respected and enforced our barriers, and also put their lives on the line. Although the Spirit manifested itself in them differently than it did in me, we were all united yesterday in an overwhelming and inexplicable love.

And as horrifying and scary as everything was yesterday, the thing that will ultimately stay with me for the rest of my life are the memories of so many, so very many good people, so very many good people coming together in love to ensure that the safety, security, and physical and mental well-being of the most vulnerable and the most courageous among us was protected and honored.

God is good. And on that day, the day when Nazis and white supremacists came to our town with their guns, cars, bats and pepper spray, the work of God’s people was also good, because so many people asked for God’s ultimate will to be done and then actually went out and sought to do it.

Hundreds of people, in their own way, like Peter, left the safety of the ship and threw themselves into the jaws of death. They chose to despise the threatening waves and demonstrated a strong dependence upon the power and word of Christ, and I am blessed and humbled to have served alongside so many amazing people who were literally responsible for the lives and well-being of countless victims.

Today, and in the days to come, we will continually pray for the families of Heather Heyer, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates. As they mourn and grieve, may the Holy Spirit tend to their hearts, minds and souls.

We will pray for those who are continuing to recover physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We will also pray for our enemies and those who have so grievously trespassed against us.

Though we may now think of ourselves as safe, we are not -- and neither are the most vulnerable people and places within our city -a nd in the weeks and months to come, this virus will continue to consume not only Charlottesville but other places as well. If the events of Aug. 12 really surprised you, then you haven’t been paying attention.

It is my hope and prayer that as we regroup from this storm, we will keep our eyes open, with the full knowledge that Jesus is God over the storm and God in the storm. That Jesus is sovereign over all creation, giving authority to all who put their faith in him, calling them to walk where he walks, to stand where he stands and to do what he does.