Holy Tuesday: Voting at Emmanuel Episcopal Church

4th Graders encourage passers by to vote outside the Emmanuel Church in Boston. Photo by Claudia Pascual.

By Emily Zisko
BU News Service

Usually only devout worshipers go to church on a Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. But today, people rushed to the parish hall of Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Newbury Street like it was Easter Sunday.

Though not a religious holiday, today was a holy day of sorts: the election of the 45th president of the United States. As always, Emmanuel Episcopal Church opened its doors from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. as a polling precinct.

Outside the church, a sign reading “vote here” in several languages hung on the main entrance next to a large Black Lives Matter flag. People filed in and out of the double doors, voting for the next leader of the free world before breakfast.

Inside, Debbie, 67, the warden of the polling place at the church, who declined to give her last name for confidentiality within the voting place, presided over today’s ballot stations in the parish hall. “My job is to oversee the polls, make sure things are running smoothly, and assist in any way that I can,” she recited as if reading off a teleprompter. Debbie has been the voting warden at the church for five years, and a ballot attendee for 15.

As a veteran ballot worker, Debbie has become a pro at handling the stress that comes with working in a voting precinct. “I know the ins-and-outs of the environment,” she said, leaning away to redirect an attendant and scanning the room full of voters with a tranquil eye.

For all the serenity she hoped to achieve on this Election Day, Debbie remembered one election where an uncooperative voter refused to remove a political button and had to be forcibly expelled by the police. “But not just our police officer, we had to get the paddy wagon,” she laughed.

Meanwhile, above the parish hall where the voting took place, Parish Administrator Amanda March, 58, was in her office on the second floor, the ceiling slanting with the Gothic arch of the building. Though March said she didn’t have much direct contact with the voters downstairs, she said she knew they would be welcomed at Emmanuel. “The charisma of this parish is to be a welcoming place,” March said of the congregation members in the lobby welcoming voters, and even guiding them on impromptu tours of the sanctuary.

However, March said she recognized that as an employee of the church, she cannot interact with the voters downstairs regarding the election. “The leadership here is very aware of the importance of not combining Church and State. It is very important that those two are separate,” she said, sitting under a crucifix hanging over her desk, and wearing an “I voted” sticker on her shirt.

Like Debbie, March was used to handling the stress that comes with Election Day. The church offered three healing services to help people deal with the strain of the election, she said. These services emphasized “reconciliation and healing for everyone, no matter what happens today,” said March.

At the same time that Debbie was working downstairs in the ballot room to keep the voters calm, March was upstairs picking out her reading for the healing service that night.

Two women separated by two floors, with the same message: vote because it is your duty, remain peaceful because it is your prerogative.

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