'You are on the side of justice' - clergy host prayer event at Capitol
Prayers, a community litany and a familiar song of hope rang out at the State Capitol on Thursday as about 75 clergy leaders gathered to offer support for public school teachers and public education.
A crowd of teachers, parents and others joined the group about 8 a.m. on the fourth-floor rotunda as several ministers led prayers and offered words of encouragement to teachers on the fourth day of a teacher walkout in Oklahoma. The event was called "Clergy Day of Prayer and Action for Public Education."
"You are on the side of justice and we're behind you," the Rev. Mitch Randall, executive director of EthicsDaily.com and former senior pastor of NorthHaven Church in Edmond, told teachers in the crowd.
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"Father, we pray that you would hold these teachers close to your breast. ... As clergy, we come here today standing beside them and thanking them for their great effort," Randall said in prayer.
The Rev. Clark Frailey, senior pastor of Coffee Creek Church in Edmond, said the group of religious leaders joined together in solidarity around a common cause. The group represented different Christian denominations as well as other faith traditions such as Islam and Judaism.
"We are united by one central theme and that is that we have children in dire need of our help," Frailey said.
The Rev. Lori Walke, associate pastor of Mayflower Congregational Church UCC, offered a blessing over teachers and support professionals, thanking them for doing "endless paperwork" for IEPs (Individualized Education Programs), curriculum modifications and referrals, writing grants, "for coming to the rescue" by supplying breakfast bars, clothing, pencils and paper to students who needed them, among other things.
She said studies show that students need at least one caring person in their lives to succeed "and so often, it is a teacher who is that one person. ... Bless you teachers, bless you."
Her remarks also included inspirational words aimed at the community-at-large.
"God grant the rest of us courage to make public education a priority in the budget -- starting yesterday," she said, drawing a few chuckles from the crowd.
The Rev. Todd Littleton and the Rev. Tiffany Monroe led the crowd through what they called a "community litany" that encouraged crowd members to become part of the prayer effort.
The clergy ended the event by asking those gathered to link arms and form a circle around the rotunda to sing the familiar gospel song for children "This Little Light of Mine." Some of the verses were changed to fit the event's theme. Randall encouraged the crowd to hold up their index finger to show their commitment to use their "little light" or voice in support of public education.
The Rev. Chris Shorow, senior minister of First Christian Church of Edmond, said he didn't hesitate to join the group of clergy for Thursday's prayer gathering.
"It's an issue for the church because an educated populace is going to be really important for us and the future of our state is involved in this. So if we're going to be a true faithful community saying we're going to support even the least of these, we need to join together," he said.
The Rev. Courtney Richards, Connections pastor at Harvard Avenue Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tulsa, said she traveled from the eastern part of the state to the Capitol with the Rev. Chris Moore, senior minister of Fellowship Congregational UCC, to stand with other clergy as they supported public school teachers and public education.
"We're doing the same thing in Tulsa that we're doing here -- standing with all of our teachers, not just those in one city or another," she said.
Meanwhile, when she was asked why she joined the clergy prayer effort, Rabbi Vered Harris, spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Israel, pointed to a sign being held by Hailey Lee, 10, of Moore. The Kingsgate Elementary School student's sign said "I Need a Great Education to be a Teacher." Hailey was at the Capitol with her mother, Ashley Hinson, who is a teacher at Sante Fe Elementary School in Moore.
"I came because of that sign. We need for our children to get an education so they can be whatever they want to be," Harris said.
As for teachers, she said: "We need to hold that profession up high. Everything in our nation is dependent upon the education of our children."