By Sh’Kur Francis
LANCASTER—About 300 people gathered in front of and around the historic Lancaster County Courthouse for a Lancaster County Prayer Vigil and Peaceful Protest June 7.
Pastors from 11 local churches, leaders from a Rock Hill mosque and a Jewish temple in Fort Mill, and local elected officials offered prayers, statements and remarks in the midst of widespread civil unrest gripping the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer.
The chiming of the 3 o’clock hour from more than 30 churches across the county signaled the beginning of the vigil. Attendees observed a moment of silence for all victims of police brutality and racial injustice.
Prayers were offered for social justice, racial reconciliation, world peace, community relations and Black lives. The gathering quickly took on the spirit of a church service, with singing from local Gospel groups and complete with funeral home fans. Some went to their knees. Others raised their arms in the air. There were shouts of agreement during the litany of prayers and loud amens.
We gathered to not only pray but to allow prayer to be the foundation from which we build upon and come together as a community to heal, to organize and strategize how we move forward to be proactive and address long-standing issues, and to build relationships and strengthen those we do have with law enforcement and local elected officials and community leaders to have those tough conversations to help dismantle institutional racism, address police brutality and enact much-needed legal and criminal reforms.
At the end of the vigil, the interfaith crowd of more than 60 clergy, Rock Hill District Superintendent Joe Long among them, agreed to a call to action and commitment:
1) To form an interracial and interdenominational ministerial alliance to cultivate authentic relationships, offer community spiritual guidance, address societal issues, promote racial reconciliation and serve as a liaison between faith communities and local governments;
2) To encourage churches and faith organizations to experience worship, Bible study and develop partnerships with a racial and cultural group different from your own to enhance cultural/racial awareness and racial justice, healing and reconciliation;
3) To launch community listening sessions, round tables and town halls in partnership with churches, civic organizations, businesses and local law enforcement
agencies undertaken over a one-year period to facilitate dialogue and listen to the varied perspectives, emotions and concerns of local citizens; and
4) To establish the Lancaster Citizens Advisory Board on Community Police and Community Relations to strengthen the important roles of citizens and police partnerships to enhance community policing, reduce crime and increase transparency and public trust.
The Lancaster County Prayer Vigil and Protest was only the beginning—the beginning of something much bigger than ourselves. The beginning of real substantive change in our churches, our communities and our halls of power. And the beginning of a more beloved community with the church leading the way.
Francis was pastor of Grace and Lynnwood UMCs in Lancaster until July 1, when he became pastor of New Hope UMC, Anderson.
By Sh’Kur Francis