Interfaith group holds prayer vigil in Chattanooga in support of police [photos]

Interfaith group holds prayer vigil in Chattanooga in support of police [photos]

July 24th, 2016 by Emmett Gienapp in Local Regional News

Supporters and police bow their heads in prayer during an interfaith vigil outside the Chattanooga Police Services Center on Saturday, July 23, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The vigil was held as a show of solidarity between the community and police.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Prayers for peaceInterfaith group holds vigil in support of policeX

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In the midst of a tide of violence dividing some American communities by hate and fear, on one late afternoon in one Chattanooga parking lot, the watchword was "peace."

A small crowd of more than 50 people met on Saturday as part of an interfaith service hosted by the Chattanooga Police Department service center on Amnicola Highway. They came with a prayer and a plea to their God to put an end to violence.

The summer sun beat down on the uniformed officers and community members, some of whom wore "police lives matter" buttons or "Chattanooga strong" shirts, as the first speaker took up a microphone.

"Renew a right spirit within us," CPD chaplain Tewan Ussery prayed. Ussery said the service was necessary because after everything the city and the nation have gone through over the last year, it's important for the community to be reminded of what binds it together.

"All that's going on affects all people," he said. "We are one family."

He went on to say those who are affected by acts of violence often have difficulty coming to terms with the tragedies, but faith and prayer can guide them through their new realities.

"If they are not processing their emotions well, that can turn to bitterness. We want to counter that," he said.

The interfaith service was organized in part by Theresa Crews, a stay-at-home mother with six grandchildren who said she had the idea to show support for police officers a few nights ago.

"We slung it together last week," she said. She wanted to see the community come together around law enforcement because she believes the national rhetoric surrounding officers is troublingly antagonistic.

Two days before Saturday's vigil, a group of a similar size from Concerned Citizens for Justice met in Miller Park to march through downtown with calls to "defund" the police and do away with "racist" policing.

"[Officers] have got too much negativity going against them. When you're in trouble, who are you going to call?" Crews said.

Police Chief Fred Fletcher said officers always appreciate support from the community, be it a kind note left on a windshield or a free meal.

"Your law enforcement feels support every day of the year," he said. But when it comes to times of crisis or discord, he said, "Chattanooga has a way of really upping their game."

They spoke out against hatred and discord, quoting scripture calling those gathered to love one another as Christ would, and the crowd joined hands in silent prayer.

But when it came time to close, pastor J. Anthony Taylor took the microphone with a smile and asked the crowd to join him in singing "Lean on Me."

He broke out with a full-throated, baritone voice and by the time he reached the chorus, the crowd was clapping and crooning along.

"Lean on me, when you're not strong and I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long 'til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.