The Methodist minister got off the bus in the small Massachusetts town.
Nan Kaye-Skinner and her husband Lew were on vacation and, with train tracks under repair in Boston, a meandering bus route was taking them to their day at the beach.
It was a long ride.
That Saturday — when they finally arrived in the seaside town of Gloucester — they wandered around a bit before they headed to the water.
And when they needed a bathroom break, the only place open was the library.
That’s where they saw it: the F-Word Project.
Tall, sturdy banners in the library’s community room, each one telling a story of forgiveness.
The couple forgot their schedule.
“The more stories we read, the more humbled we were not only at how people had found within themselves the desire and ability to forgive,” Nan said last week. “But the impact that had had on them and the people around them.”
The couple spent more than an hour immersed in tales of grief, horror and reconciliation from around the world, each one deeply personal and unique, but each carrying a common thread.
Then Nan turned to her fellow pastor husband: We need to bring these to Lincoln.
On Friday, the couple stood in front of the first of 18 banners that will fill an empty retail space at Gateway Mall for the next three weeks.
There’s Desmond Tutu in red and a mother who lost a daughter standing beside the man who ordered the attack that killed her, and more stories from Rwanda and Bosnia and downtown Manhattan on 9/11 still rolled in cardboard tubes, waiting to be hung.
This day was two years in the making, Nan says.
And it grew into a web of interconnected events that involved Lincoln Public Schools and Lincoln City Libraries, Nebraska Wesleyan University and the Mayor’s Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, as more and more people saw the possibilities and wanted to join in.
Forgiveness Lincoln has already seen local stories staged in a student-written and -produced cabaret at Wesleyan. Its committee members helped bring a Forgiveness Project speaker to town to share his story at a prayer breakfast attended by city leaders.
It reached out to Lincoln Public Schools, which led to student art on the theme of forgiveness and its lessons. Forgiveness will be the theme at Bennett Martin Library's family storytime in May.
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In the end, the buy-in was easy, Nan says.
“It went from an initial coffee and it has just grown. The spirit is moving and I’m excited to see what ways it comes to life.”
The hard part was finding the right space. Nothing seemed to be the right fit — or it had been booked far into the future.
And then the Trinity United Methodist Church leader got a tip about Gateway Mall and its community initiative.
Live 360, they call it, says Becky Sidles, mall marketing manager. “We have valuable space out here and we want people to use it.”
Specifically, they want to turn the mall’s common areas, parking lots and empty storefronts into usable community-minded places. (The student art exhibit, for instance, is in the former Things Remembered space, across from Zale’s.)
The marketing manager knew nothing about the Forgiveness Project — which began in 2004 in Great Britain and has since spread around the world — until Nan showed up in her office.
“I was immediately caught up in it and joined the committee.”
She thinks the mall space is perfect, a place to broaden the scope of the project and to expose the banners to a wider audience.
It’s not quiet, like an art gallery or a church, venues the organizers had initially explored. And it’s open seven days a week.
“Ultimately, I think it will get more eyes on it here.”
There will be comfy chairs for viewers to sit and reflect and talk about the banners, a table with journals for visitors to write their reflections.
They hope the audience will be diverse in age and ethnicity. Church-goers, synagogue and mosque worshippers, atheists, the indifferent.
And that’s a good thing, the Methodist minister says.
Because it’s not a Christian project.
“It’s a human project.”