Despite the fact that members of the East Cleburne Ministerial Alliance did not overly publicize their June 18 public prayer vigil a fair number of residents showed up and organizers deemed the event a success, ECMA President John Warren said.
“We would like to have spread word more beforehand to attract more people,” Warren said. “But we had to take safety factors into consideration with COVID-19 numbers still rising and the needs of where we could hold the event but still have room for people to social distance. On the other hand, we felt that we as the Alliance needed to do something.
“But we actually ended up having more people than we expected and were pretty well attended with a turnout of about 40 to 45 people.”
Held at Cleburne’s First Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the event, named the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil, offered area pastors and residents opportunity to pray on and discuss both the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the Memorial Day killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin as well as the protest, riots and other instances of police brutality that followed.
Ten local pastors, all members of ECMA, from as many churches offered prayers and thoughts as did several residents, Warren said.
Because of the crowd size, the event, which last about an hour and a half, was held outdoors. Social distancing and face masks were required.
“We wanted to come together, contemplate and give people a chance to talk,” Warren said. “Mainly come together and pray together for our nation. In that I think it was a successful event because so many there said how nice and helpful they thought it was.”
The murder of Floyd and others has left a deep hurt on the hearts of Blacks and others across America, said Warren and Mt. Zion Pastor Willie Stevenson, who also participated in the vigil.
“I think the vigil was informative and people seemed to enjoy it,” Stevenson said. “It’s needed because prayer is the way to change things. If the Lord’s not in it, it’s not going to work. It serves as a reminder too that even in times of trouble and stress God is alive and well and still in control.”
“We do not want the momentum of this event, and others like it, to die or be forgotten,” Warren said. “Members of ECMA are greatly encouraged by the diversity of people of all races and denominations who continue to speak out and protest this atrocity. Several members of the Alliance felt that this was the time we needed to extend an opportunity for members of our churches to morn, grieve, cry, sing and pray together as a community.”
Following the vigil, Warren acknowledged that some of the protests across the country in the weeks since Floyd’s murder have turned violent.
“Anybody with common sense would not support any violence, burning or looting,” Warren said. “But we also have to protect peoples’ rights to peacefully protest.”
Random acts of violence and vandalism arising during some of the protests cannot be explained as simply as many people believe, Warren said, nor can they be credited to one group.
“Everybody showing up does not show up for the same reasons,” Warren said. “And every time you get a lot of people together like that you can’t control everybody’s behavior. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held his marches in the 1960s participants had to take a test before they were allowed to participate. And, if they failed or began acting up later, they were pulled out of there. With the people who started Black Lives Matter, I praise their initiative.
“But I also think they need to look at Dr. King’s example as to how to handle situations of violence and getting out of hand at their marches. That might involve going back to the drawing board or having chaperones at their marches, or asking the police to help them to cull anyone who starts getting violent out of their marches.”
Emmanuel Seventh-day Adventist Church Pastor Billy Wright delivered the vigil’s opening remarks and, after the event, called Floyd’s murder a probable watershed moment in American history.
“I think, much like we saw so many times in the 1960s, George Floyd will probably be looked back upon as a defining moment in our history. I think because so many people, white and otherwise, finally saw what life is like for so many Black people. A lot of officers are good, solid people who do what they’re supposed to do. But then there are the bad apples. And, for many Black people, being stopped by the cops inspires that fear of, ‘Am I going to come out of this alive?’ Because you don’t know what type off officer you’re going to get, and it’s stressful; it’s hard to live like that.
“But, this is the system we have now. I think, hope, a change is going to come with George Floyd.”
The Rev. Kirklin Cross of The Meeting Place Church said change appears to be already underway. The challenge is to see it through for positive ends.
“The bigger picture is what George Floyd’s death started in terms of conversations on the subject,” Cross said. “A lot of people want to have that conversation but at the same time no one seems to want to step on anyone else’s toes. The problem there is that silence on the matter doesn’t get us anywhere.”
Participants concluded the vigil by observing 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence,the amount of time Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck.
“I’d like to see us pull all the Cleburne churches into this,” Stevenson said.
That may still happen, Warren said.
“We were talking about that and are contemplating coming together again but have made no decisions on when or where yet.”