A slain pastor was remembered Wednesday for his compassion and desire to help people, a man who would have asked for prayers for the family of the people who killed him, one church member said.
The Rev. David Harrison Strong was "a forgiving man, always thinking about others," said Ray Hill, a long-time member of the St. Paul AME Church that Strong pastored for 10 years,
"He would tell us not only to pray for his family, but also for the family of the people who committed the crime," Hill said Wednesday at a prayer vigil. "That's the man I knew him to be."
About 200 people, from relatives to church members, preachers to politicians, turned out at Warren Chapel AME Church for the first in a series of services scheduled this week in Strong's honor. Another is scheduled for today.
Strong, killed in his home last week during a robbery, was found beaten and stabbed Sunday morning. Antonio Henry, 25, and Brendan Barnes, Henry's 16-year-old cousin, each have been charged with one count of felony murder and one count of especially aggravated robbery in Strong's death.
Wednesday's vigil for Strong was held not because he died but because he lived, said the Rev. Barbara Sanderfur.
"We come today to look to the Lord to help us through this hour because we know that there is light at the end of the tunnel," Sanderfur said. "We come today to celebrate."
A picture of Strong sat between two candles in front of the pulpit during Wednesday's service. The piano played. A line of preachers clapped, and Sanderfur tilted her head back and led the crowd in singing "Hold to God's Unchanging Hand."
Strong, 55, was the sixth of 10 children born to the late James Harrison Strong and Bettie Davis Strong. The pastor grew up in Memphis and served in ministerial positions in Louisville, Ky., and Nashville before coming to Chattanooga in 2000 to become the pastor of St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Members said he hosted mentoring programs for youth, visited the elderly and reached out to people who weren't a part of the church.
"He was a father to the fatherless," said Tharyl Brown, St. Paul's youth director and church member of more than 50 years. "When the youth go bowling, he goes bowling with us."
Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, former city commissioner John P. Franklin, former city councilman John Taylor and Gregorian monk Brother Ron Fender were among the people gathered to honor Strong.
Andre Strong, the late pastor's nephew, sat on the front pew and greeted people until the prayer vigil started.
"He was a talented and gifted man," said Andre Strong. "He could sing, play the piano and he could preach."
Ministers invited state Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, to speak about Strong from the pulpit.
"I'll tell you right now that I don't feel worthy to be up here with these men and women of God, so I'll start with a confession," said Berke. "I'm a man and I'm angry. And I know that's not what Rev. Strong would want me to say."
Berke said he will try to remember the good things about Strong to help him deal with his feelings of what happened to the minister.