HUNTINGTON - Community members gathered to explore a spiritual side of unconditional acceptance Tuesday evening at the Ritter Park picnic shelter during "Open to All: Kindred Spirits," an event hosted by the Huntington Mayor's Diversity Advisory Committee and the Open to All Campaign.

The speakers were from diverse backgrounds: The Rev. Margaret Tyson is a pastor at an AME church in Ironton; Pastor Tim Dixon leads a Christian congregation that he said was half LGBTQ; Hilary Brewster is a professor at Marshall University and identifies as a humanist; and Carmen Mitzi Sinnott is a performing artist.

The event, as Rabbi Jean Eglinton put it, was difficult to describe - like a service but not religious, but more specific than just a gathering. The purpose was to bring people of different backgrounds together to reach mutual understanding by discussing mind, body and spirit in the context of combating all forms of prejudice, including, but not limited to, racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia.

"Biblically speaking, to be whole is to be well in mind, body and soul," Tyson said. "Today that's not where we seem to find ourselves. Today we are fractured, broken and damaged."

In this context, Tyson spoke about the spirit.

"Spirit is that which emanates and brings one into self," Tyson said. "And when we begin to breathe together, to inhale and exhale as community, we begin our journey toward wholeness."

The event concluded with Sinnott explaining a concept she learned about in South Africa, Ubuntu, which was explained to her by a local as meaning "I am because you are, and you are because I am."

"We talk about open to all and being all here together - religion and faith and practice has segregated us," Sinnott said. "But each of us teach each other who we are. And so you being here today really makes it clear to me ... that we can live more humanely with each other."

In addition to listening to the speakers, event-goers participated in meditative breathing and contributed to a piece of artwork, which Eglinton simply described as a rainbow. Participants wrote meaningful words on colorful ribbons to add to the rainbow.

This Saturday, the Open to All Campaign, along with Cabell Huntington Hospital and Marshall University, will host the city of Huntington's third annual pride picnic from noon to 3 p.m. at the Ritter Park picnic shelter, one of several upcoming events going on throughout the city to celebrate Pride Month. A free picnic buffet will be provided until the food runs out.

Follow reporter Megan Osborne on Twitter and Facebook @megosborneHD.


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