On November 24, I ran in the Buffalo Turkey Trot. I have never run this race before, so I didn’t know what to expect – but I learned nothing reflects Buffalo’s unique character like the Turkey Trot.
An array of personalities set out for a 5-mile run dressed in costumes reflecting our city’s diversity and spirit. There was the running Labatt Blue can, a dinosaur wearing a number 17 jersey, and the guy running with a canoe on his head (I am still trying to figure out what that was about).
As I approached the train bridge on Delaware Ave, I felt a strange sense of pride well up — a good pride. The kind of pride that comes from being a part of something bigger than oneself. I blurted, “hey-ey-ey-ey!” while passing under the rusted old bridge. Like an animal pack howling on a brisk morning, hundreds of voices rhythmically called back, “Let’s go, Buffalo!”
I was choked up. I am part of a community.
A few weeks later, I prepared to celebrate Christ’s incarnation with my faith community. As a Christian pastor, Christmas Eve is one of the most cherished celebrations in our liturgical calendar. Families recite passages from our holy texts, children sing, “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” and we end our celebration with a solemn candlelight display signifying Christ as the “light of the world.” I love Christmas Eve celebrations; they’re when my faith community shares the beauty in our belief with our surrounding neighbors.
I am part of a community.
But Christmas Eve 2022 did not go as planned. Lake Erie’s gift was hurricane winds combined with seven feet of snow. Candlelight filled our city, but not in celebration. Forty-four souls perished in the Blizzard of 2022.
My family was fortunate; our home was warm and the lights stayed on. So while I missed out on leading our church’s candlelight celebration, I did enjoy time with my wife and son – and thank goodness the cookies and Chex Mix held out!
We thought we made it unscathed. I would begin the pastoral work in the morning; I’d help my neighbors dig out. But things changed at 10:30 pm.
The call came from the alarm company: “The sprinklers burst in your church building. We are sorry, but the fire company cannot dispatch tonight. Merry Christmas.”
Have you ever noticed that something happens to time on Christmas Eve? The minutes become decades.
A deluge filled our worshiping space for eleven hours. The building we built as a community, and in many ways, the building that built us into a community, lay waste.
But Buffalo is a community.
So the news circulated quickly regarding our church disaster, and within minutes hundreds of calls, texts, and messages flooded my inbox (no pun intended). I would not have been surprised if the messages were exclusively from those within the Christian community; we tend to identify with those sharing similar beliefs. But our support has come from our entire Western New York community.
Those of different faiths, some claiming no faith, neighbors from the city, and friends in the suburbs have reached out to ask:
“What can we do?”
“How can we give?”
“Can we volunteer to help?”
“How are you, and what do you need?”
Why would so many diverse people care about our small faith community, especially when we all do not share the same beliefs? Because we are Buffalo! And that’s what Buffalonians do!
Buffalo is a community.
That’s why Damar Hamlin’s injury affects us so deeply. Monday Night Football showed the world who we are.
We support each other, even when we disagree. We grieve together because we share a common humanity. We pray, even when we do not share the same beliefs.
We are a community.
The United States is a fractured nation needing to regain a sense of community. And during the past two months, Buffalo has modeled what it means to be the City of Good Neighbors. What America needs right now is more Buffalo! We are the toughest city in America.