Monday, December 10, 2001

Church head donates to freedom center

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The first African-American president of the Unitarian church announced a $15,000 donation to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on Sunday at the Avondale church he worshiped in as a boy.

        The Rev. William G. Sinkford, a Cincinnati native elected in June to the denomination's top post, spent the weekend talking with members of the five area Unitarian churches and preached at his home congregation, First Unitarian Church on Linton Street.

Complete coverage in our special section.
        The Walnut Hills High School gradu ate, who attended Harvard and now lives in Cambridge, Mass., presented $5,000 each from First Unitarian Church, the national Unitarian Universalist Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the denomination's global human rights arm.

        “The Unitarians were the founders of the Underground Railroad movement so this donation keeps in step with the traditions of the past,” said Ernest Britton, director of external relations for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is slated to open in 2004.

        The Rev. Mr. Sinkford urged worshipers to continue that tradition by erasing boundaries of race and class.

        “Unless we are willing to do the hardest work, that of knowing ourselves... we are at great spiritual risk as we approach the reality of race and class and the making of justice in our world,” the Rev. Mr. Sinkford, 55, told 275 people who packed the church.

        In a surprise presentation, First Unitarian Church members unveiled a bronze plaque recognizing the Rev. Mr. Sinkford as the first African-American president of the national Unitarian Universalist denomination.

        The plaque will be mounted in the

        sanctuary next to a long-standing plaque honoring former President and U.S. Chief Justice William Howard Taft, another member of the 161-year-old church.

        “It is deeply moving to me to be honored by the congregation that taught me what a church is,” the Rev. Mr. Sinkford said.

        After the hourlong service, members who watched him come up through the church waited in line to talk to him and shake his hand.

        “The congregation is brimming with pride,” said the Rev. Sharon Dittmar, the church's pastor. “He is one of ours. We have been with him through the good and the bad. But beyond that, Bill speaks to the option that it is safe, even sacred, to be different.

        In light of April's riots, several church members relished the Rev. Mr. Sinkford's sermon.

        “His message is so right for this church and this city in this time,” said longtime member Walt Herz, 77. “Bill reminds us that regardless of how many or how few black faces we have in our congregation, it's what we do in the community that creates links.”

        The Rev. Mr. Sinkford said the city must address race issues.

        “Our churches have been the leaders in change and reconciliation and peace,” he said.

        “We must get behind that positive energy and set the example and value all that is good here. Otherwise, the tragedy of the riots will not be the last example of the fabric of society fraying and falling apart at the seams. ”


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