Dear Colleagues in Christ
I want to first thank you all for your prayers for the community of Sanford during this difficult and tragic event surrounding the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case. The Rev. Charlie Holt of St. Peter's, Lake Mary gave you an overview of three significant meetings that occurred on Thursday, April 12th, and I thank him.
This morning at 10 am on Friday, April 13th, some two dozen pastors from the Sanford Ministers' Fellowship and African American Regional Ministerium gathered at Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Sanford for a news conference following our Thursday meeting with other area pastors in Seminole County facilitated by Steven Sprang of Charisma Media and Strang Communications, Lake Mary, FL.
There was a strong consensus at Thursday's meeting that the press conference on Friday, April 13th involve only pastors from the Sanford churches. We prayed together before going out to offer reflections concerning what we felt the Lord was calling us, the spiritual leadership of our community, to do collectively and in unity of spirit.
Every area TV and newspaper media was present for this press conference arranged by Steve Strang and we are grateful for his leadership in this capacity.
Several of us were chosen from among ourselves to speak to various components of this unfolding community crisis. We spoke as "one" in the kind of unity that only the Lord, whom we all serve, can engender within our hearts.
Several of the news networks have the entirety of our remarks on their individual websites for viewing. Many of the TV affiliates carried a story on the press conference throughout the day and into the evening. No national news media picked up the story to my knowledge.
What we said to the news media was quite simple. We as the pastors of the churches of Sanford wanted to move forward with the process of healing our community that has been broken and hurt by these recent events. We did not take sides on the legal process that is unfolding or the details of the story that need to be heard in the courtroom for proper due process.
Our purpose was to call for a healing from God for our community. To let the news media and the people of this region know that the leadership of the churches stood united in our desire to seek reconciliation, safety for all in calming down the situation, and relationships to deepen among the faith communities within Sanford.
Our desire to assist this healing process is requesting from Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mother, and Tracy Martin, his father permission to hold a public memorial service to mourn his death, comfort his family, and pray for all those affected by this very human tragedy including George Zimmerman and his family, Chief Bill Lee and his family, the William Zimmerman family (who are not related to George Zimmerman, but whose home address was texted to many by film director, Spike Lee, and who suffered harassment), and for all who have felt the sorrow and pain of this event.
It is our hope that this first step, and many other steps that we will take, will begin the process of healing and restoration to our very fractured community. We ask your prayers for this, and thank you for them.
Pastor Derrick Gay of the Dominion Church of Sanford spoke eloquently about our need to bring about a climate of reconciliation. I shared about this being a "teaching moment" from the Lord about our need to not judge others upon their outward appearance and make assumptions about others, and that the Lord was calling us as a community, a state and a nation to learn from this episode, and examine our hearts to root out prejudice, assumption making, and solving issues with violence.
Other pastors shared their concerns that Sanford has been maligned by this tragic death and our confidence in public authorities that we trust. The sharing by the pastors was heavily laden with comments reflecting our sense that this event was a "transforming and defining moment" (like 0-11; JFK's death) in our history, and that we sense the Lord will use it to bring revival to our community and this nation. We are truly sensing that God is going to do a remarkable thing in our midst through this tragic event. We called upon pastors everywhere to be bold in discussing the ramifications of this case, and our need to turn to the Lord to heal the divisions within our land, laid bare by this episode.
We ask that of you, our sisters and brothers in Christ, to join with us in your prayers for healing and reconciliation. To use this tragic episode as teaching moments to those in your care conveying our need for "justice and righteousness" (Amos) and our need for reconciliation, forgiveness and healing as a nation.
The Spirit of God is moving like a mighty wind in Sanford, and coming your way! May God grant you the heart to tune your heart to His will and purpose in times like this!
Warmly in Christ,
Fr. Rory HB Harris
Rector of Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Sanford, FL