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An ecumenical group of Christians is counting on the commitment of its diverse congregations and divine intervention to change the fortunes of Buffalo.

VOICE-Buffalo, a faith-based, civic-minded organization, sponsored its second annual ecumenical service of worship Sunday in Holy Cross Catholic Church, Niagara and Maryland streets. About 500 worshipers attended the service.

"The power of VOICE-Buffalo is the power of the people of our congregations seeing that a new day's a coming," said the Rev. M. Bruce McKay, pastor of Pilgrim-St. Luke United Church of Christ.

McKay, a founding member and past president of VOICE-Buffalo, delivered the sermon for Sunday's program titled "Building the Kingdom on Earth as It Is in Heaven."

He challenged the faithful to believe in the possibility of the holy city described in Chapter 21 of the Book of Revelations that spoke of a place without "mourning, crying or pain."

"There is something in that vision that won't let go of us," McKay said. "It is so deeply rooted in us that it speaks to our deepest longing as human beings.

"God's kingdom will come, according to Jesus, when God's will is done."

Sister Susan Bowles of St. John the Baptist and St. Francis Xavier Catholic churches is the current president of VOICE-Buffalo, which she said, "was born out of a deep desire to carry out justice for people in our city who are struggling."

The goal of the group, which includes about two dozen congregations, is to bring together people of faith across racial, religious, class and geographic boundaries in an effort not only to strengthen their congregations, but to transform public life in Buffalo through civic activism rooted in the Christian faiths of its adherents.

As a group, they aim to work with public officials on a variety of issues plaguing Buffalo and the region, including racism, crime, public education, and economic and environmental issues. Group leaders vow to hold local corporate and public officials accountable.

"It's not about just raising issues, but providing solutions," said Nancy Freeland, organizer for VOICE-Buffalo. "We train people from our churches to do research on community issues, and we meet regularly with public officials."

A year ago, the group met with several public officials, including Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, to propose solutions to city problems. Freeland said the group helped the city implement the Blue Can Garbage Collection program on the West Side last fall.

The 90-gallon containers are intended to provide a cleaner environment, reduce disposal costs, shore up the city's recycling efforts, and strengthen the Streets Sanitation Department's animal- and rodent-control efforts.

"We hold them accountable, and we're willing to be held accountable," Freeland said.

The group, which includes about two dozen congregations, Sunday welcomed the congregations of three additional churches: Church of the Nativity United Church of Christ, Kenmore; Westminister Presbyterian Church, Delaware Avenue near North Street; and Riverside-Salem United Church of Christ, Grand Island.

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