Guest post: Praying for OUR Memphis…

Rev. Dr. David O. Weatherly, Interim Metro District Superintendent, sent this message to clergy and lay leaders in the Metro District earlier today.

What comes to mind when you think of Memphis?

Barbeque, the Blues, southern soul food, Rock ‘n Roll, a Pyramid, the NBA’s Grizzlies, the University’s Tigers, the fabulous Zoo, Beale Street, a city on the bluff of the mighty Mississippi River, the unique bridges that cross over that muddy, mega-waterway…

Those are all great things to consider about what makes Memphis truly a one-of-a-kind city. Those are also the things that we are proud to put on a postcard.

Those specifics listed above cannot be experienced in any other place on the planet like you can in Memphis.

For me, as one born and raised here, I think of only one thing when I think of Memphis…people. The human beings that live here and call this city home.

Which means we must make another list of what it means, and has meant, to live in Memphis. A list of things about what it has been like, past and present, to be a person who resides in Memphis.

Blacks and Whites (primarily), the struggle for civil/human rights, poverty, economic imbalance, racism, redlining, maligned public schools, and often corrupt/ineffective/divided government systems and leadership.

These elements also are present in many cities in our country and around the world.

There are also many miraculous things that can be found in Memphis that fill the lives of people who live here with hope…St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Metropolitan Inter-faith Association, The Church Health Center, and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of churches who offer effective ministries of care, concern, and compassion.

What makes today feel different is that we will see one of our own, a citizen of Memphis, a brother in the family of humanity, suffer great pain – and ultimately – life-ending injury. That it will come at the hands of police officers is even more troubling. We still do not know everything about what caused these five officers to react the way they did and completely overpower and assault an unarmed individual. They deserve to be considered innocent until proven guilty…but that will not matter today.

We know that the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of those who wear the badge of law enforcement do so with a full commitment to protect and to serve. I am thankful for them and support their willingness to put themselves and their lives on the line when any of us calls for help. I know some personally, and likely so do you. They are overworked, underpaid, and drive out of the precinct on their shifts with an anxiety we civilians cannot understand. May God protect them and may they always have the strength to protect and serve courageously and appropriately.

Today is normally my day off, so I have been in several parts of Memphis running errands. The looming release of the video of this event was clearly on the minds of many people.

I went to return an item at a department store. The two clerks at the customer service desk were talking about it as I approached the counter. One said to the other, “I don’t want to watch the video because I don’t want to hear someone crying out for their mom like that.”

I was in the grocery store and two employees were placing items on shelves. One noted to the other, “It sure is slow for a Friday.” The other remarked, “You know the video of the police incident is coming out. People are probably scared and staying home.”

I was driving near Poplar and I-240 and saw several vehicles clearly marked “Homeland Security” pulling off the interstate and merging in front of me. I have no idea if their presence was because of the dynamics around the release of the video, but that’s where my mind went.

The local sports talk show I normally listen to on the radio had put aside their usual topical conversation to reflect on how they thought the weekend would go after the video is seen.

It’s everywhere…and it should be. We all need to learn something from this.

Tyre Nichols was a Memphian. He was one of us. You cannot separate yourself from him – or his humanity. Today we need to pray for his family and OUR Memphis. It matters not where you live or serve in the Metro area. This is not a day you can separate yourself by urban, suburban, or rural – by Black, White, or another race – by rich or poor – by conservative or progressive – by clergy or lay. If one of us hurts, we all hurt.

No matter where you live or serve, we are people of faith, and we need to pray for OUR Memphis.

So, with the release of the video later today of the reported beating that took the life of Tyre Nichols, I am asking you as your Interim Metro District Superintendent to pray and engage your congregations in some capacity this Sunday in a manner that you feel is appropriate for your ministry setting. I trust that you know the best way in the context of your ministry settings to offer opportunities in whatever fashion is best for prayer, dialogue, and community response that promotes peace, understanding, and consideration for how such an act can and will ripple through our communities.

I ask that you pray for Tyre’s family and for strength in their unimaginable pain.

I ask that you pray for peace, patience, and the mighty power of God to descend upon our citizens and leaders.

I ask that you pray for these five former officers, that they will receive a fair and just process in being held accountable for their actions.

I ask that you pray that the media will not inflame an already volatile situation by sensationalizing this tragic event.

I ask that you pray for the Memphis Police Department that they may look within themselves and do all they can to ensure something like this never happens again.

I ask that you pray that no politician or political action group will use this tragedy to simply promote their agenda or suggest that all police are bad. We know they are not.

I ask that you pray that the response to seeing the video will not cause people to bring violence and destruction.

Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayers.

May God bless the City of Memphis.