From ANN, Jan. 26, 2015: An Adventist congregation in New York City hosted a service of hope and healing in an effort to quell tensions brought on by weeks of unrest between police and civic leaders stemming from the deaths of a citizen and two police officers. Tied to commemorative celebrations of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the Hope and Healing for Better Police and Community Relations event featured civic leaders, police officials, members of Congress and Adventist clergy.
Held Sunday, January 18, at the Flatbush Adventist Church in Brooklyn, the event included prayers for city officials, for protection of the 35,000 police officers in the city, and God’s healing power to ease the hurt and suspicion rampant in the community. Tensions have flared in New York and across the United States resulting from incidents late last year. On December 3, a grand jury decided not to indict the officer who placed a chokehold on Eric Garner. On December 20, two police officers were assassinated by a man claiming retaliation. Both events sparked protests, rallies and extensive national media coverage.
During the event Adventist Church leaders appealed to all groups for calm, understanding and healing. “Over the past few weeks, the city has been roiled by tension,” said Pastor Daniel Honoré, president of the denomination’s Northeastern Conference. “We still mourn the loss of Eric Garner. We still mourn the loss of [officers Wenjian] Liu and [Rafael] Ramos. Society however has presented us with a false choice. It has told us, ‘Either you support community rights, or you support the police.’ Today I want to categorically reject that choice.”
Pastor G. Earl Knight, president of the denomination’s Greater New York Conference, said that in light of the recent events dividing the city, “as a faith community, we cannot sit in idleness, twiddling our thumbs in despair. We are a people of hope, not despair … We believe that God can heal the brokenhearted; He can heal our broken relationships.”
The Honorable Yvette Clarke, the U.S. Congress Representative from New York’s 9th District, commended the denomination for organizing a “timely gathering for dialog and discussion.” She added, “You have decided that church takes place seven days a week. From that understanding of the gospel, we can transform life in real-time. Not only in the spiritual realm, but indeed we can make a change in the secular realm.”
Other officials who spoke included Letitia James, Public Advocate of New York City; the Honorable Hakeem Jeffries, U.S. Congress member from the 8th District; Harold Miller from the staff of Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Benjamin Tucker, deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Many in attendance were youth and young adults.
“Prayer is not the only thing we can do,” Pastor Roger Wade, youth director for the Northeastern Conference, stated as cards were distributed with information about how one should respond when stopped by the police and citizens’ rights and responsibilities. He was joined in the presentation by Pastor Andres Peralta, youth director of the Greater New York Conference.
The event included a panel discussion with the deputy police commissioner; the president of the local, inter-faith Clergy Council, Rev. Gilford Monrose; and Adventists Pastor Shane Vidal and Pastpr Allen Martin. It was chaired by Pastor Rohann Wellington, communication director of the Greater New York Conference.
When asked what steps need to be taken to bridge the divide as a result of recent events, Monrose cited examples of clergy activism during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s and 70s. “Members of the clergy have a specific role to pray, but we also have to put our feet to our faith … We have to do work and be that liaison between the police and our communities.” Monrose added that while anger and frustration are inevitable, clergy can be that “voice in the middle” to maintain the flow of communication on both sides.
Martin pointed out the more reactive approach that communities have had and shared his experience while visiting Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown. Emphasizing the need for public engagement before tragedies happen in the community, Martin said, “We have elected officials on the podium, but elected officials represent us … Our responsibility is to hold our officials accountable.” He added, “We can’t sit back and let things just go and not raise our voice of concern. And we can’t wait for there to be a shooting, or there to be some tragedy, to be engaged. Vidal called for a new paradigm of policing that would enable police officers to focus not on how many arrests are made, but on how many lives they can transform by their daily encounters.
Recommendations from the panel discussion will be included in a report to be presented to the Office of the Mayor of New York City. There is a plan to build on relationships formed from the event and to provide a continued proactive presence in the neighborhoods affected by these tragedies.
The event also included worship and a press conference. One poignant moment during the service came when the audience—comprised of a variety of races and ethnicities—collectively rose to their feet and enthusiastically applauded eight-year-old Nathanel McKenzie after his recitation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Closing remarks were presented by Pastor Abraham Jules of the Adventist Community Worship Center. Using Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, Jules reminded the audience that those who have been wounded often have a greater capacity to become healers.