By Marty Simpkins, member of Grace Ministries Teaching and Writing Team
On Saturday, April 14, 2018, at 9 a.m., the Wake Forest Prayer Walk began simultaneously in four locations one mile out from town hall and converged at Centennial Plaza. Lunch was provided by Chick-fil-A for the first 200 participants followed at H.L. Miller Park behind the Wake Forest Police station.
The walk teams were named for the four Biblical gospels. The Matthew team met at South Avenue and East Wingate Street; the Mark team at North White and East Juniper streets; the Luke team at Wait Avenue and Brooks Street and the John team at South Main Street at Pine Ridge Court.
People gathered from all over the community to walk in prayer for town leaders and other public servants. The purpose to come together as a community in prayer. “God is waiting to hear our prayers. He wants to hear our prayers for our community, its people, for their safety,” said Bob Gallagher, a Prayer Walk organizer who is chairman of Grace Ministries USA. “Our hope is the government of Wake Forest will benefit from our prayers and His wisdom. It’s a good way of spreading love out to the community and that we’re all working together.”
People from many Wake Forest churches and institutions participated, and organizers had more than 200 people form into four groups of walkers. The idea was to have folks start from four different directions — in groups labeled for the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — and converge at Centennial Plaza at town hall.
Representatives of Wake Forest United Methodist Church, Restoration Church, Kingdom Family International, Friendship Chapel Baptist Church, Church of God of Prophecy, Franklinton United Methodist Church, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Kerr Family YMCA were part of the planning team, but people from other churches, area high schools, or and any others were invited to attend.
“We’ll try and capture the whole essence of the community coming together in four different directions,” said the Rev. Ken Steigler of All Nations Church and founder of the Christian Clergy, Chaplains & Missionaries (3CM) inter-denominational group. “We’ll pray for community, for needs of community, for our leaders for blessings … it’s just to pray that God will continue with good things in the community – good government, government transparency.”
For Tilda Caudle, associate minister at Olive Branch Missionary Baptist Church, the walk is a personal, spiritual movement, in addition to the physical component. “We do believe God’s hand is in it, we do believe he has ordained it. We want our town representatives to know that we care and God cares for them,” she said. “The organizers all feel the same way. We want to be in one accord. We’re excited about it, because we believe God will answer our prayers if we lift up the people working for the town, we believe God will hear us.”
They want the town’s leaders, the commissioners, as well as town staff, police officers, firefighters, and other public servants to know the faith community is in their corner. “It’s important that we help take care of them as a church, just as they are looking out for our communities,” Caudle said.
A number of churches were in on the planning: Steigler said, “Richland Creek, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals — a rich blend of the community,” were on hand.
Leaders and congregants from these churches have formed the Christian, Clergy, Chaplains, and Missionaries (3CM) organization, which operates as a part of Grace Ministries USA, to come together and talk about how they can reach their community. For example, the Wake Forest Northeast Community Coalition has benefitted from this togetherness, leading to Habitat for Humanity builds, as well as fix-it days for seniors on fixed incomes, community clean-ups, and the planting of a community garden.
The Prayer Walk was originally organized by the late Rev. Linda Hartsfield of the Solid Rock Foundation, close to two decades ago, and reinitiated last year by Hartsfield, a personable and vocal member of the Wake Forest African-American community, according to Caudle. Hartsfield died late last year while the new Prayer Walk was being planned, so this walk was in her honor.
But there’s more to it. There may be no such thing as a black church or a white church or a Latino congregation, but segregation nonetheless can be a part of church life, an issue that has been raised by both Steigler and another walk organizer, the Rev. Enoch Holloway of Friendship Chapel Baptist Church, among others.
With this coming together, this unified prayer, “we can break down racial divides, break down cultural differences,” Gallagher believes. “As a Christian, this is what we’re called to do.” Gallagher likens the building of the coalition, bringing people together as a beacon shining beyond the town limits: “The diversity we have is tremendous. We have the opportunity to be a light for everyone around us.”
Caudle, who is president of the Northeast Community Coalition, sees the Prayer Walk as a new start for the Wake Forest community. “What is so beautiful, is this is what the kingdom of God looks like — all denominations coming together. It connects us. It’s just great,” she says. “I’m hoping … that it’s just the beginning of great things to come.”