CANTON They're reaching across their pews, pulpits and denominations to take up a common cause.
Since last July, a group of pastors, black and white, have been meeting for weekly prayer on behalf of the community. Recently, more than two dozen clergy met at the First Church of God in Christ to discuss their objectives and to spread the word about what they call "The Prayer Gathering."
"What we're seeking to do is because of concern for our city," said the Rev. Joseph Glover, pastor of Church of God Worship Center. "To bring some change to our community and region. This is not about asking anyone else to stop their program. This is about us being able to be corporate as a people of God."
"We are trying to, in the simplest way to put it, get our pastors to understand how important it is for pastors to come together," said the Rev. Webb Parsons, pastor of the Arlington Avenue Church of God. "It's time to lay our differences aside and come together and pray. It's not about my kingdom; it's not about your kingdom; it's not about my church or your church."
Parsons said that pastors — not law enforcement and government — must lead the way to restoration.
"We are the spiritual leaders," he added. "It will come through the pastors. Our congregations will only do what we do. If we don't want to pray, they won't pray...We know pastors are busy. They're too busy, but we've got get our priorities straight."
The Rev. Walter Moss, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said clergy must make an intentional effort to come together.
As program director of CIRV, the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, Moss said he regularly is summoned to scenes of crimes. So far in 2017, there have been nine homicides countywide, and six within the city.
"I take it personally because I'm a Christian, and because I'm a pastor in the county," Moss said. "I'm saying, 'Where are the churches?'
"People are saying it's about 'black lives matter;' it's not about 'black lives matter.' It's about the church. The church matters and has to get engaged...We need a clarion call. We need to come together and pray together."
The Prayer Gathering also is urging more clergy to attend the National Day of Prayer at noon May 5 on Courthouse Square. Parsons said he sent out 100 letters to area clergy and bought airtime on local radio to promote the yearly event.
The Rev. Gary Martin, pastor of True Light Christian Ministries, said the days of church prayer meetings are almost gone.
Holes in the boat
"You want to know why the church seems powerless? It's because of an absence of prayer," he said.
Martin said that when he was contacted by Glover, he jumped at the chance to participate.
"It's not about denominations. It's not about race. It's not about politics," he said. "It's about the people of God, allowing God to use them in a way that's going to impact this city and this region for the cause of Christ."
Martin likens the current crises to being in a boat filled with holes.
"We're seeing the rise in drug deaths, in homicides, all these things happening around us, and it would be less than ingenuous for us to raise our hands and praise God on Sunday, while people are perishing Monday through Saturday," he said.
The Rev. Joe Morgan Jr., whose church hosted the meeting, said Canton has become a byword for religious divisiveness.
"Evangelists who have come to our city say there's a cloud over the city of Canton because people don't like to work together," he said. "Prayer is what's going to change things...We need healing."
Morgan's small church at 1125 Gonder Ave. SE is sandwiched between a complex that houses people with mental illness, and SMHA public housing. He and his members regularly walk the neighborhood and pray.
"Enough is enough"
"Prayer is the answer, brothers and sisters," he said. "I truly believe this is not another new thing. We're simply saying 'enough is enough.' And when God says 'enough is enough," watch things change."
The Prayer Gathering also is urging more clergy to attend the National Day of Prayer. The Rev. Bruce Mont, pastor of the historic First Church of the Resurrection, said he knows that pastors are busy, but their absence from the National Day of Prayer is concerning.
"I think we need to ask ourselves why," he said. "Everyone knows the first Thursday of May is the National Day of Prayer. It's just a matter of, at noon, showing up."
"That why we're here," Moss added. "We want the message to go out to all of our fellow pastors."
Glover agreed that National Day of Prayer is important, but stressed that the ultimate goal is for pastors to pray year around.
"If we learn how to get together during the course of the year, then getting together one day won't be a hard thing," he said. "This group of pastors has been coming together since July of last year, trying to develop a place where people can come regardless of denomination because it's not about a denomination; it's about God's people, reaching out to him.
"This group is trying to say that we're trying to break down every wall, every barrier, to become one."
For more information contact Parsons at 330-455-4028.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.orgOn Twitter: @cgoshayREP