To witness against the violence so prevalent in its city, Grace UMC in Philadelphia embarked on a Friday night “Prayer Walk for Peace” Nov. 4, accompanied by officers and chaplains from its friendly neighborhood police precinct.
As dusk settled and temperatures dropped, about 50 church members of all ages sang and prayed while walking about four long blocks around the church. Some held up brightly-colored signs bearing messages of love, peace, friendship and “All Lives matter.” They were escorted by police chaplains and other clergy, and by about a dozen 14th Precinct officers on foot, on bicycles and in police cruisers.
Following instructions and prayer offered by the Rev. William Gary George, Grace’s pastor, and the Rev. Robert Coombe, pastor of nearby First UMC of Germantown, lay member Barry Gilliard led off the procession confidently in stride and song, singing “Blessed Assurance” and “This Little Light of Mine.” As walkers paused along the route, chaplains uplifted them with inspirational prayers, as neighbors looked on from their porches and windows.
“There is so much violence and unrest between the community and police, especially for many families that have had conflicts,” George said later. The church’s West Oak Lane community has suffered from increasing gun violence, said one local official.
“The church needs to take a stand and show the community the hope and love that comes from our relationship in Christ and as members of the human family,” said George. “It’s important to have mutual respect between the community and police.”
During the walk he lamented in his prayer that “so much that goes in our streets,” asking God to “grant that the simple act of praying for peace will make a difference in this community. Grant that the police will move and act on your accord and be kind and caring…and may the community learn to love and give respect.”
An ecumenical cadre of chaplains offered fervent prayers for residents who suffer from addiction, unemployment, prostitution, family violence and other struggles. “We claim the victory because nothing is too hard for God,” prayed Elder George Jones.
Helping to lead the march, 14th Precinct Captain Sekou Kinebrew said such efforts are important for improving communities and their relationships with police. “It sends a positive message when the community sees the police and the faith-based community working together. He said the precinct does about five community demonstrations like this each year, but this was the first one with Grace UMC.
Two men were instrumental in making this one happen: Rev. George and Min. Frank Crangle, a retired officer and now president of the precinct’s chaplains. Crangle and Kinebrew both want to do more activities and another walk in the spring when days are longer and more people are outside. Surprised to see many young people on the walk, the captain later asked George about the church’s youth programs and invited the pastor to become a police chaplain also.
John Coleman photos