published Monday, March 17th, 2014

'Live Free Sabbath' focuses on stopping gun violence

Pastor Kevin Adams, left, prays with Towanda Sherrell, center, on Sunday at Olivet Baptist Church. The church took part in a national event, "Live Free Sabbath," aimed at helping affected by gun violence. Sherrell provided firsthand testimony about gun violence. Her son, James, was shot and killed in 2011. Sherrell herself was shot in the neck 23 years ago.
Pastor Kevin Adams, left, prays with Towanda Sherrell, center, on Sunday at Olivet Baptist Church. The church took part in a national event, "Live Free Sabbath," aimed at helping affected by gun violence. Sherrell provided firsthand testimony about gun violence. Her son, James, was shot and killed in 2011. Sherrell herself was shot in the neck 23 years ago.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
  • photo
    People hold hands during prayer at Olivet Baptist Church during "Live Free Sabbath" on Sunday.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
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The Rev. Kevin Adams says he performed too many funerals in 2013.

As pastor of Olivet Baptist Church at 740 M.L. King Blvd, Adams shepherds a flock that deals regularly with the effects of the often deadly gun violence that Chattanooga leaders are targeting through programs like the Violence Reduction Initiative that will begin later this month.

With gang members scattered throughout the pews and families of those lost to gun violence honored at the altar, Adams issued a plea during Sunday morning service that he hopes will resonate with his congregation and the entire city.

"Father, in the name of Jesus, stop this senseless killing," Adams prayed, causing some to raise their hands and nod their heads in agreement.

Though Adams said violence is a topic he addresses frequently, Sunday's service was a part of "Live Free Sabbath," a national event through a faith-based, problem-solving organization called PICO.

Adams did not have to go far to find someone who could speak about the need to curb violence in Chattanooga.

Towanda Sherrell was baptized at Olivet Baptist Church in 1990, but Sunday she took the church stage for another reason.

Sherrell spoke briefly about her experience with gun violence. Her son, James Sherrell, was shot and killed in February 2011.

James, a student at Howard School, was not a gang member and was simply trying to break up a fight, Sherrell said.

Not long after her son died, she lost a nephew to gun violence. Sherrell herself suffered a gunshot wound 23 years ago.

"We've got to make a stand for these young children that are getting killed," Sherrell said. "They didn't even get to reach 19 and they're getting killed."

Adams believes local churches have a role to play in making that stand as well.

"We've got to, some kind of way, turn this thing around, and I think the church has lost its way in that," Adams said.

"There used to be a time when the church was the center of the community and it was more involved in the lives of people, involved in families. We got away from that and became too anti-social, restricted, pulled back. But now we have to get out and pull up our sleeves and get dirty, get in the trenches."

Adams said he meets regularly with the families of those affected by violence to figure out why and how it happened and what the church can do to help. He also meets with gang heads and community leaders, including Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, to discuss the steps to moving forward.

"The mayor has been very supportive in that with [public safety coordinator] Paul Smith," Adams said. "They've helped me get some of these kids jobs and even send some of them to college. We've got to have more alternatives [to gangs and violence] for this thing to work."

The church is an option, one that Adams said needs to be a part of the solution for the community.

"Not another funeral, not another death," Adams prayed as worshipers raised their hands and nodded their heads in agreement.

"In the name of Jesus. Too much bloodshed. Stop the gang-banging. Stop it, Lord."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

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