After violence, death in Charlottesville, United Methodists pray for peace, healing, unity


Centenary Church's service attracted a diverse crowd and more than 30 clergy, including Episcopalian pastors, a Catholic priest, Methodist pastors, and Baptist ministers. Photo courtesy of Centenary Church.

By Kara Witherow, Editor

“Lord, what can I do?”

That’s the question Rev. Precious Hawkins asked as she watched violence erupt in Charlottesville, Va. last weekend.

“What can we do? It kept coming back to ‘pray,’” said Rev. Hawkins, pastor of Speedwell United Methodist Church in Savannah. “It just became clear that we need to come to the Lord in prayer.”

People have gathered together in prayer for centuries, she said, and feeling called to invite others to pray with her, she asked the public and several clergy friends to join with her in prayer.

On Monday, Aug. 14, Speedwell UMC was crowded as people of different races and backgrounds prayed, sang, and held hands in unity. United Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Episcopalian pastors participated in the vigil.

Savannah-area United Methodist pastors Rev. Stacey Harwell-Dye, minister of community building at Trinity United Methodist Church; Rev. Michael Culbreth, pastor of ConneXion Church; Dr. Columbus Burns, Director of Pastoral Care at St. Josephs/Candler Hospital; and Rev. Doreen Smalls, pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, prayed for unity, peace, for the city of Savannah, for the president and elected officials, against injustice and racism, and for first responders and the military. Prayers for healing and racial reconciliation were also heard and received from the crowd.

Hearts were heavy and people were distressed about recent events and the state of the world, Rev. Hawkins said, but she hopes that, after praying and ministering to one another, they left encouraged and uplifted.

“We can come together in prayer, and it is a reminder that we are all created in the image of God,” she said. “We may look different and sound different, but that unites us.”

Wednesday, Aug. 16, Centenary Church in Macon hosted a service of lament, witness, confession, and hope. Rather than a generalized, non-descript listing of sin and complicity, it offered a chance to move to specificity, organizers said. That specificity of confession is freeing and dangerous because it forces people to consider how they, as people of faith, are to confront sin.

“It was a time to come together in prayer, lament, and confession around how we all have participated in this endemic and systemic racism that we see laid out before us right now, and to make some space for hope,” said Debra Williams, Centenary Church’s minister of relational leadership.

The service attracted a diverse crowd and more than 30 clergy, including Episcopalian pastors, a Catholic priest, Methodist pastors, and Baptist ministers. Williams hopes that it encouraged clergy to be bold and preach similar messages from their pulpits.

“Our theology is already so life giving. Our social consciousness as United Methodists – it’s part of our theological DNA; it’s part of who we are,” she said. “What I’d like to see our United Methodist pastors do is to be bold and call racism the sin that it is and to boldly proclaim that and move their congregations to a place of confession and hope."

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