The Rev. Dr. Peter Heltzel – The Power of Prayer for a City in Mourning

Ray Rivera Praying at Presinct 26

The Rev. Dr. Ray Rivera prays for healing in front of the 26th Precinct

On December 22, 2014, I participated in a “Pray In” up in Harlem with other faith leaders to mourn Officer Wenjian Liu and Officer Rafael Ramos and grieve with their families. We began our journey in the Quad at Union Theological Seminary, where Rev. Paul de Vries shared that Officer Rafael Ramos was an active member of Christ Tabernacle Church. Seeing his service as a police officer as a ministry, Officer Ramos was in training to become a chaplain. Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, we have the opportunity to treat the person in front of us with love and respect. At the Intersection of 121st Street and Broadway, we prayed for peace in our city, before marching together down Broadway to the 26th NYPD Precinct, singing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” led by Rev. Derick McQueen.

During this Advent season of purple pondering, our “Pray In” at the 26th Precinct in Harlem offered a more contemplative, collaborative form of community organizing for justice. Since the non-indictment verdict in the Michael Brown case was announced on Tuesday November 25th, I’ve been involved daily in some form of #BlackLivesMatter activism, often jubilant and energetic chant-driven marches on Manhattan streets. These protest marches intensified in New York City with the announcement of a non-indictment verdict in the Eric Garner case on December 3. We’ve heard the chant “I Can’t Breathe” in powerful protests in all five boroughs, inspiring young leaders to push for real police reform and a restoration of our broken criminal justice system.

While our peaceful protests are non-violent in the spirit of Ghandi, Heschel and King, there have still been altercations with police officers, and over 300 arrests. With the murders of Officer Liu and Officer Ramos, the protests in the city have taken on a more mystical, meditative tone. Last night I was part of a candle light prayer vigil in Harlem, where we silently processed through Central Park to First Corinthian Baptist Church, where Rev. Michael Walrond, Jr. led a Prayer and Healing Service for activists, exhorting us not to grow weary in the struggle for justice because better days lie ahead. Prayers of healing and hope have characterized the NYC protest gatherings of late. Today when we reached the 26th Precinct in Harlem, Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera, President and CEO of the Latino Pastoral Action Center, prayed for the children, parents and spouses of Officer Liu and Officer Ramos, as well as Shaneka Nicole Thompson, and for all those who are victim of domestic abuse–that God’s Spirit would continue heal broken hearts and restore trust between the police and residents of New York City.  Clergy and Police Officers embraced. Prayer protests hearken healing and hope for cooperative community action in 2015.

Rev. Peter Goodwin Heltzel, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary.

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