BELLEVILLE — In a world filled with separation, guest speaker Lynn Clapp urged the 500 attendees at the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast on Wednesday to embrace one another and not fear diversity.
"We must let go of this fear," said Clapp, who is the assistant superintendent of Belleville School District 118. "The only way of doing that is to forgive ourselves and those others, to stop hoarding control and possessions, and think of our abundance and be governed by love. The good news is fear is an illusion. It's not real ... Love is the only reality and love is letting go of fear. It's that simple."
To make Belleville a better place, Clapp said everyone in the city needs to come together and have a voice.
"There is no need to restrict others from the benefits that everyone should get or from the opportunity to participate even if you are a different religion, different economic status or different political party," he said.
Clapp said everyone can learn something from families of poverty. He said families who have very little cherish their children more. "They live in the here and now," he said. "They tell and listen to each others' stories."
Clapp's inspirational message was infused with humor. He kept attendees laughing throughout his 20-minute speech including when Clapp mentioned his desire to become a priest so he could marry a nun when he was a young boy.
"You think I'm kidding. I spent five years in the seminary, and I finally figured out I couldn't marry a nun," he said.
Clapp's humor often emphasized a strong message including being less selfish.
"We middle class white people are sometimes stupid. If you're not one of them, you're cool. But I'm one of them, and I'm sometimes stupid," Clapp said. "I strive to be successful, provide for my family and ensure a good retirement and collect cool things ... It's all about the collecting and that's the wrong kind of abundance."
The largest proportion of wealth in the United States is in the hands of the smallest percentage of people, according to Clapp.
Clapp, who has worked for District 118 the last 34 years, is retiring at the end of this school year. "I love children. How can you not love them?" he asked. "I love their smiles and I love their laughs. I love the way they think and speak. They just crack me up. I especially love the way they love."
Clapp praised the work teachers do every day. "The very spirit of many of these children hang in the balance of their seasoned and experienced hands," he said, "and seldom do our teachers let them down."
The role of teachers and principals have changed over the years and now they often show affection and love to students, according to Clapp. "There's a lot of hugs going around," he said.
Clapp, who grew up in Nashville, Ill., also serves on the city of Belleville Human Relations Commission and is a consultant for Vertical Performance, an organizational improvement company.
The breakfast, at Fischer's Restaurant in Belleville, is sponsored by a voluntary committee. This year marks the 49th annual breakfast.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he looks forward to the prayer breakfast every year. It was at the breakfast 10 years ago that the community was challenged to do what schools had been doing for years -- to become a community of character. "We are doing what the kids are teaching us," he said.
Eckert recognized educators and their love for children. "I don't care what our students do if we can teach and convey that love and those character traits of respect and responsibility and of doing our very best, this city will stand strong for another 200 years," he said.
The city of Belleville is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Eckert said the bicentennial is an "opportunity to celebrate, an opportunity to reflect and really take stock at where we are at, to dream about where we want to go and to really propel ourselves forward into the future."
Eckert encouraged attendees to volunteer and take part in the city's yearlong celebration.
"When this year concludes, we are going to see and feel that love and that ability to bring people together and imagine Belleville for the future," Eckert said.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.