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Williamsport responds to possible rally with prayer, barricades

Raymond Sciacca of Williamsport spends time in prayer in Brandon Park on Friday morning. Raymond, a member of Grace Life Fellowship , was at the park as part of the United Churches of Lycoming County’s call to pray across Brandon Park during the weekend that the National Socialist Movement would have held it’s rally in the park. Raymond said he was praying to thank the Lord for staying with us in these times and that people would come together rather than stay apart . The informal call to prayer continues today and Sunday from 9am to 8:30pm according to WROZ 101.3FM. KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

The barricades placed around city synagogues are not the result of further communication with the neo-Nazi group, an official said Friday as community members united in prayers for peace.

The National Socialist Movement was denied permits for their march in April and, more recently, for today.

“Their permit request was denied, it’s our understanding that they’re not coming,” said Chief Damon Hagan. “If they come, we’ll be ready to make sure the city is safe.”

Before Mayor Derek Slaughter denied the permit, Hagan said the organization spoke publicly about coming to Williamsport, but it has not done so recently.

“We, the City of Williamsport, are going to be ready to keep our city safe if and when they come,” he reiterated.

With 45 concrete barricades surrounding Temple Beth Ha Sholom and Ohev Sholom Congregation, Hagan denied further comment on the barricades’ purpose and location.

Leaders at those temples are urging peace, said Gwen Bernstine, executive director of the United Churches of Lycoming County.

“They don’t want anyone to get hurt, they know that a building is just a building,” she said.

Although many items and the buildings themselves hold sentimental value, much like any other worship center, they know they may be replaced, said Bernstine.

“Should something happen to them, there’s no way to replace that kind of stuff, but it’s much better for something to happen to things than to people,” she said.

Her organization has called for prayer in Brandon Park for several days, and urged the community to stay home on Saturday if the neo-Nazi organization comes.

“We’re not going anywhere to be incited to be angry, but are standing in solidarity with both synagogues in our community.”

Since joining United Churches of Lycoming County in 1991, Bernstine said she’s been working to help end hatred. That year, the Ku Klux Klan came to Williamsport, and many of the resolutions her organization took remain applicable today.

“We all need to search our souls and look at the things that each of us are prejudiced about and work to eradicate the prejudice from our own lives,” she said. “Hate is not a Christian value.”

It’s unfortunate that a people who have been historically victimized are undergoing continued victimization, she said.

“It could be anyone,” said Bernstine. “It’s time to stop all of that.”

A small group of people were still at Brandon Park Friday praying for their community. Barbara Tibbetts, with The Door Fellowship, said she didn’t believe the NSM were a godly group.

“I don’t think (neo-Nazis) have joy, I don’t think they exude joy, peace and love to those around them,” she said.

Also among their group was Raymond Sciacca, of Grace Life Fellowship, who said he wanted to create change in the community by setting an example.

“I would like it to rub off on you, you see what I’m doing and without forcing anything down upon you, you take this home with you.”

It’s in private that people change, he said.

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