GREENSBORO — Those who gathered on the steps of the downtown historic West Market Street United Methodist Church at noon Wednesday prayed for peace and justice as their city and the country has erupted in violence.
The predominantly white congregation also wanted to stand against the death of another black man at the hands of the police. The death of George Floyd, an African American who fell unconscious and later died with the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer on his neck, has led to calls for action, especially among white people.
“We wanted to do something to demonstrate our grieving, our lamenting and our solidarity with our black and brown brothers and sisters,” said the Rev. Jill Alventosa-Brown, the evangelism pastor at the church.
Two voices rose above the litany of prayers, songs and readings from the Bible from the gathering of about 100 people downtown as midday traffic whisked by, leaving some wiping away tears.
“Dear God, today I pray for children like me who don’t understand why this happened,” 6-year-old Dylan McSwain began.
His 7-year-old sister, Marley McSwain, continued: “I pray that you will help us be brave and courageous even when we don’t understand the world around us.”.
Speakers said prayers are just part of the healing.
“O Lord, you created us as equal, yet we have treated one another unjustly,” Mary Katherine Melton, the church’s director of discipleship, said in a litany of confession that spoke of old wounds and callousness of scars that prevented others from being as sensitive as they ought to be.
The crowd followed with “Forgive us, O God.”
“Help us listen to those to whom injustices have been done until we hear your cry in theirs and feel your pain in theirs,” Melton continued.
Nearby, others in the crowd held up signs reading “#blacklivesmatter” and “Pray for peace, work for justice” as Wilson Mericle, a leader of the church choir, led the diverse crowd in the song “Let There be Peace on Earth.”
“To be honest,” said Bryonna LeGrand, an African American child care worker who was among those who had walked across the street from their jobs to be a part of the prayers, “it feels good to see other than us out here in support.”
As high school teacher and church member Kia Aponte read to the crowd from the Book of Genesis — including “God saw everything that He made indeed good” — she carried the words of her teenage daughter, who recently asked her at dinner why white people hated them so much.
Aponte, who is African American, says coming together gives a good example of what’s needed to heal the divisions in the country.
“I was able to use this church as an example of — at times there’s so much bad outweighing the good, but remember you have a church family that’s always showing you love,” Aponte said. “I could balance what’s out there with what she experiences here. She said, ‘You know what, Mommy, you are right.’ ”