In an effort to bring community unity, area churches are planning a prayer vigil and service to be held this weekend at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Elkin.
“With everything that’s going on, we wanted to find ways to unite instead of dividing the community,” said Wesley Chapel Pastor Jeanette Hayes.
Hayes, with the Rev. Judy Davis of Jonesville United Methodist Church and Ebenezer Church, along with other local pastors, took notice after events surrounding the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, began escalating after division over the history of the Confederate flag began to spark arguments.
The tragedy began when Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white male from Lexington, South Carolina, allegedly shot and killed nine worshipers during a Bible study at Emmanual AME. According to reports, Roof attended the study before firing on and killing all but two of those gathered inside the historically black church.
Since that time, debates and accusations of racism have filled media outlets, creating divisive tactics among communities. While some argue that flying the Confederate flag is symbolic of their heritage and is defended by free speech, others claim that it is offensive and prefer to see it removed from government infrastructures and store shelves.
While the two events are seemingly unrelated, the Charleston shootings served as a catalyst for re-igniting racial and equality debates that stem-back for decades, and re-opening the conversation surrounding the Confederate flag.
The hope of the area churches is not to discuss the topics that pull the community apart, but instead to bring them together through prayer. “We’ve seen the need,” said Hayes. “The events, the flag, it’s affected the church as well, bringing division between families and friends.”
Community members will have two opportunities to take part in the services including the Saturday evening prayer vigil from 5 to 7 p.m. and a service on Sunday beginning at 4 p.m. and lasting about an hour. “We’re having this vigil, hoping that it’s not a one-stop beginning and end but that it will produce more things for the community and more events in the future,” said Hayes. “Anyone that wants to join in the community can come, the service is open to anyone.”
The events are sponsored by the United Methodist churches in the area but anyone is encouraged to attend. The Saturday vigil will offer attendees an opportunity to come, pray and then leave at their leisure. Prayer is encouraged individually or corporately as they feel led to do.
On Sunday, those who attend the hour-long service will enjoy a service led by UMC lay servants that will speak to those gathered. The congregation will take communion and a light meal will be served. Music will be provided, offering a cross-section of genres.
“We’re really hoping for the community to show up for the events,” said Hayes.
Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church is located at 210 Oak Grove Road in Elkin.
Karen Holbrook may be reached at 336-258-4059 or on Twitter @KarenHolbrook00.