CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Local pastors are responding in an effort to bring healing and restoration after racist turmoil over the weekend in the city of Charlottesville. Demonstrations and counterprotests at the University of Virginia (UVA) campus and the downtown area left one person dead and 19 injured.
Pastor Pete Hartwig of CityChurch in Charlottesville, has been working with his closest ministry colleague Alvin Edwards, the pastor of Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church, for years, and believes his role now is to listen to Edwards and other black church leaders and follow their lead. Hartwig encourages other pastors to be united and to remain faithful to Jesus in order to help bring racial healing.
Edwards and Hartwig hosted a community prayer event at Mt. Zion First Baptist Church, the largest African-American church in Charlottesville, on Saturday afternoon during the protests. The building was packed with pastors from across the city and attendees of local congregations. During the gathering, those present, including Jon Burtram, lead pastor of Redemption Church Charlottesville, learned that a white nationalist had just driven a vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters.
The congregation of Redemption Church Charlottesville is moving into a new building the first Sunday of September about a half-mile from where the violence erupted. Burtram believes the new location will help the church to conduct more community outreach.
“We need to come together,” Burtram says. “It’s not a white thing. It’s not a black thing. It’s a community thing. It’s a God thing.” Redemption Church pastors posted a video on Facebook inviting Charlottesville residents to join them for a prayer service in place of the typical Sunday morning service. They also requested that those unable to attend in person join through prayer.
In the same manner, U.S. Missionary Pete Bullette, campus pastor for Chi Alpha on the UVA campus sent a message to supporters asking individuals to pray and to work to shine the light of Jesus in this trying time.
UVA Chi Alpha, a department of U.S. Missions, also held a prayer walk on campus Tuesday night, retracing the steps the white supremacists tried to claim, trusting that the Lord will cause the dividing wall of hostility to crumble.
“While a dark and divisive cloud hangs over our university and city from this weekend, as we return to the grounds for a new school year let us be even more inspired to be an extremely hospitable and loving community to all,” says Bullette , who has overseen the campus group’s growth from 15 to 500 since his arrival in 2000. “May we shine the light of Jesus in the midst of the darkness.”
Potomac Ministry Network Superintendent Ken Burtram likewise is grieved over the turmoil in Charlottesville.
“I am heartbroken for the city and for the impact these events have had on the nation as a whole,” Ken Burtram wrote in an email to network ministers. “I want to clearly state that we as a body of believers, striving to follow the heart of God, stand against actions that promote division and spread hatred and racism. We pray against the spirit behind such actions.”
The Assemblies of God National Black Fellowship condemned the violence, as well as hatred and racism in any form.
“These events displayed deep acts of hate, racism, bigotry, and evil toward fellow Americans,” the NBF said in a statement. “Although much progress has been made to encourage unity and love amongst all, there are still great acts of hate and evil, such as white supremacy and domestic terrorism, that must be condemned by all.”
The group, which has responded to various violent acts of racism since last summer, noted that while the Assemblies of God is comprised of people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, unity in Christ must reign supreme.
“The blood of Jesus Christ unites us, and we cannot allow these divisive acts to overshadow, intimidate, or nullify the unity of Jesus’ sacrifice,” the NBF stated.