As the sun began to set on Sunday, singing echoed from the parking lot outside of the Flagstaff Medical Center.
A group of people from the different denominations of Flagstaff churches had come together like they had many times before to pray in support of hospital workers on the front line of COVID-19. However, the group refocused its prayers against the looting and rioting occurring in different parts of the state and country. The prayer community also rescheduled its normal meeting in light of the recent week-long curfew instated by Gov. Doug Ducey that runs from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day through June 8.
As the community gathered, people sat on trucks with their hands stretched high into the warm spring air as cars left their hazard lights blinking for the healthcare workers inside.
People voiced their support for first responders, the Navajo Nation and others dealing with the coronavirus, and the community as a whole. Other leaders also brought attention to high-profile victims of police violence that have become known throughout the country.
But every issue was brought back to the power of prayer.
Pastor Nathaniel Bradford asked for unity from God, and to calm the hostility.
“We are to love those who hate us. We are to pray for those that spitefully misuse us and persecute us,” Bradford said. “And so Father, we want to be not overcome with evil, but we overcome evil with good.”
Mayor Coral Evans admitted that while she and Gov. Ducey have not seen eye-to-eye on many topics over the past few months, she hoped that everyone would stay safe and abide by the governor’s order.
“I realize that it is yet another disruption in a year of disruptions. I really want to say that I believe we all need to be unified in our approach when it comes to moving our communities forward,” Evans said.
In her mind, the stress, anger and fear in response to COVID-19, the economic downturn and the death of George Floyd are all understandable emotions. To pave a way forward, she quoted the United States Constitution’s preamble that states all people are created equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In her mind, that’s where the conversation needs to start to bridge these many divides.
“We need to get on the same page with that if we’re going to get through the economic, health, cultural, class and race crises,” Evans said.
The pastors took a moment to pray over Evans, Vice Mayor Adam Shimoni, Deputy Chief Dan Musselman and spokesman Charles Hernandez of the Flagstaff Police Department. People joined and raised their hands above them as they prayed for their safety.
Musselman said at this time, they’ll take all the prayers the department can get. He cited Chief Kevin Treadway, who couldn’t be present Sunday, by saying that a community’s trust in their officers takes time to build but can be lost quickly by bad actions.
“What’s going on is tragic for everyone. I feel bad for the victim, their family,” Musselman said. “I feel bad for the cities, they’re struggling and hurting and they need to heal.”
The department is still trying to determine their response to the newly implemented curfew orders, and will have more information soon, Hernandez said.
Patricia Purchase is a Flagstaff resident and was attending the community prayer event for the first time, after she heard about the gathering at her church earlier that day. In her mind, it was all about supporting leaders and first responders as they help try to find a way past this moment.
“I believe that prayer is incredibly important. In the Bible it says if God’s people turn to Him in prayer and repent, then He will heal our nation," Purchase said. "I truly believe that.”
Sign up for our Crime & Courts newsletter
Get the latest in local public safety news with this weekly email.