By Suzanne Ocsai
Arriving early at the San Bernardino Community church for the Prayer Vigil for Unity and Racial Injustice on Saturday, June 27, Bryant Taylor, worship and media pastor at Azure Hills church, noted that everyone was especially quiet. Even as more of the nearly 100 attendees arrived, there was still a noticeable silence. As he looked out on the crowd that was forming, he saw a seriousness and sadness in their eyes.
On June 12, following the murder of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers, the North American Division published a press release asking all members to observe a special day of prayer on the last Sabbath in June.
Tara VinCross, senior pastor of the Azure Hills church, reached out to Jerrold Thompson, pastor at the San Bernardino Community church, with the idea of holding a joint prayer vigil.
“It’s our responsibility as a church to step up and to respond directly,” said Jessie Lopez, young adult pastor at Azure Hills church, who helped plan the event. “It is a reflection of who God is to stand up and speak against oppression, to speak against any form of injustice.”
The two churches planned to equally share each aspect of the programming, alternating between members of San Bernardino Community and Azure Hills churches for prayers, spoken word performances, special music, calls to action, and prayers of action.
After a welcome, VinCross led attendees in a moment of silence that lasted exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds—the same amount of time Floyd was pinned beneath the officer’s knee before he died. This was followed by prayers of repentance that led into the rest of the programing.
As the vigil came to a close, Thompson and Taylor led calls to action.
“This is not a political fight,” Thompson said during the vigil. “When you politicize it, then you demonize it. Our call to action is for us to be more like Jesus. Let’s not politicize this but make sure this is biblical.”
Taylor challenged the non-Black attendees to not simply stand up for the persons of color they know and respect but to stand up for all persons of color.
“Every white person has someone that they know that’s Black that they would step in and do something for,” Taylor said. “But I didn’t want them to do it for that reason. I wanted them to do it because it was wrong.”
Following the vigil, both churches committed to continuing their partnership, and they hope other churches will seek similar relationships with sister churches.
“I just want people to be inspired to pick up the phone and call their Black pastor down the street, or the Black pastor call the white pastor down the street or another ethnicity, and do something for their community together,” said Thompson.