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Praying for change: Vigil tackles racism, touts unity

Tears ran down Pastor Mike McCormick’s face as he shared why he was wearing a suit in the heat Wednesday evening during a prayer vigil at Heritage Park in Winchester.

McCormick, the pastor of Calvary Christian Church, had preached a funeral earlier in the day. As he prepared for the vigil, God spoke to him and told him to wear the suit to the vigil as well.

He said it wasn’t to look nice or to fit in with the other sharp-dressed pastors who would be speaking at the event. It was a sign of suffering.

Just as he suffered alongside the family at the funeral earlier in the day, he was suffering alongside the people of color in our nation.

“They’re suffering. They’re mourning. And you’re just fine,” God spoke to McCormick. “Your family’s just fine. Your wife’s just fine. Your kids are just fine. Your job’s just fine. But you’re not just fine. Because they’re not just fine. So you’re suffering.”

McCormick said he wore the suit as an act of solidarity.

“I’m gonna stand here tonight, and I’m gonna keep standing, and I’m not gonna get tired of standing, because it’s good for me to stand, and because it honors you,” he said. “You deserve it. And he says, ‘If one person is honored, they don’t just suffer with each other, we rejoice with each other as well.”

More than 100 people gathered Wednesday night for the vigil meant to tout unity in a time of division caused by racism and the killings of black people in America. The vigil followed several days of rallies, protests and even riots in all 50 states, marking the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history.

The mission of the vigil was to reinforce that “we are one in Christ Jesus,” as pastor Kenny Clay prayed.

“Help us God to walk in faith not in fear,” Clay said. “God help us to unite because we know that Jesus came and he abolished that wall that divided us.”

The vigil was planned by Chad Higgins of Winchester, who said it was put together in just a couple of days.

“We’ve protested. We’ve rioted. It’s time to pray,” he said. “That’s what tonight is about. The only way that our society will be fixed is by divine intervention.”

He said it’s not an issue of black or white, the problem is with good vs. evil.

He challenged those in attendance to not let the action stop with the vigil. He said it was important to have tough conversations with their friends, family, loved ones and even strangers. He also challenged pastors to address injustices with their congregations.

“Speak out against injustice anywhere,” he said.

Pastor Marvin King of First Baptist Church on Highland Street spoke about his experience as a black man in America.

“I labored on what to say, but the only thing I can do is tell the truth,” King said. “As I look at the fact that this is a prayer vigil, many people are coming from different particular faiths, but we are all here saying that the one thing that unites us is a love for humanity, a love for our Creator and a love for our community.”

King said that despite physical differences, there is more that unites humans than divides them.

“I stand before you on this day as the reflection of an African-American pastor in this community, as an African-American male in this country, and it is true that many of you do not understand the shoes in which I walk, the talks that I must have with my children, the way that I must live and interact for me to functionally assimilate to this society. But the reality is, we’ve now reached a decision of are we going to continue to allow the systems, structures, processes and institutions of this country continue to divide us and continue to allows us to be misaligned, to be mischaracterized, to be be marginalized and be misunderstood, or are we going to make a decision to be unified and love each other?”

King said this is not the first time an African-American has been killed at the hands of law enforcement, but he does not hate or criticize all law enforcement. However, there’s a disproportionate use of power used with African-Americans that must be addressed. “And if we serve the same God, if we have a similar faith despite various physical and doctrinal differences, and if we say we abide in love and love humanity, we ought to stand together,” he said.

He asked those in the crowd to stop being allies and start being advocates, because “an advocate says, ‘When you’re not there, I’ll still fight for you.’”

King said “we are better together.”

“Winchester, we are better than this,” he said. “And we refuse to let the division of our country infect like a cancer in our community. We are much better together. We’ve raised each other’s children. We’ve watched each other play on the ball field, and we’ve watched each other academically, socially and culturally, and I’m standing here today to put my foot down and to say despite the anger and the frustration and the fear I have, I’m willing to put my fear down. Will you put yours down and can we stand together?

“Can we speak up for one another? Can my children play with your children? Can we have a barbecue together without you being fearful of what will happen? Can we grow together?”

Pastor Ryan Dotson of Lighthouse World Outreach also helped organize the vigil and gave the opening remarks. He said the vigil was meant to shed light on a problem in our country and our community.

“You cannot heal something that you don’t bring to the forefront to be healed,” Dotson said. “Winchester is no different. We need to come together and need to pray as one and believe God.”

Along with the pastoral reflections, prayers were offered by a number of local ministers, including Clay, the Rev. Jim Trimble, the Rev. Jerry Johns and the Rev. Raymond Smith. 

Smith said it was time to stop putting bandaids on open wounds, but take them off and let those wounds begin to heal.

“I pray that you would help us tear down the walls,” he said. “If we can’t be the example, how do we expect the world to follow? … It’s time now for the people of God to be bold and courageous. … Help us tear down those walls. Allow the world to see us coming together unified as one.”

Other pastors from the community, including Todd Radar, Pat Finley and Freida Blair, offered Scripture readings, and Michael Houchens, Pastor Kenny Speakes and Nate and Stephanie Jackson sang. 

Near the end of the vigil, Scott Ogle, pastor of Central Baptist Church, gave the invitation.

He said the root of the problem is sin.

“There’s a desperate wickedness in the heart of all of us,” he said. “The answer is not just in justice. I believe in justice and we should love justice and fight for justice. But the answer is never going to be achieved in human effort or human power. It will be because the gospel is more powerful than any injustice.”

About Whitney Leggett

Whitney Leggett is managing editor of The Winchester Sun and Winchester Living magazine. To contact her, email whitney.leggett@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0049.

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