Virlina District sponsors peace walk

People holding signs saying "Pray for Peace"
Photo by Tim Harvey

Forgive us, Jesus, for understanding that violence is, indeed, a heart problem,
but then putting into people’s hands the most violent weapons ever created.

Forgive us, Jesus, for making you into a mascot for our political team,
reducing you to a slogan for a cause you will not recognize.

Forgive us, Jesus, for not recognizing that hurt people hurt people;
strengthen us for the long road to healing, wholeness, and peace.

With this prayer, a walk to recognize the International Day of Prayer for Peace began, sponsored by the Virlina District Peace Affairs Committee. The walk was a new addition to the district calendar, designed as an intentional response to both rising incidents of gun violence in the city of Roanoke, Va., and recent efforts to understand and reverse the impacts of racism in the city.

The committee capitalized on connections that members have through the district and local civic work on these issues, as well as relationships with a growing network of concerned Christians from across the area who are committed to peace and justice work.

The 38 walkers were from 8 Virlina District congregations, congregations from several other Christian denominations, and some civic and social justice groups. The group walked together along a two-mile path through the Gainsboro neighborhood in Roanoke. This historically Black area witnessed the decimation of once-vibrant religious, civic, and arts life by the so-called urban renewal efforts of the 1960s to 1980s that destroyed neighborhoods, churches, and businesses, relocating citizens from homes to housing projects.

The walkers visited five historic Black churches, two of which are in their current location after being forced to relocate when their original property was condemned during the urban renewal process. Pastors and church members greeted us with a brief history of their congregation and a moving prayer for peace for our world and especially for our city, as much of Roanoke’s gun violence impacts members of these congregations. This was made more tangible to walkers as our route passed a convenience store where one participant’s son had been murdered several years prior, and then later stopped to visit a homemade memorial to a recent victim of gun violence.

Though the pain and loss that several walkers carried with them was significant, the overall spirit on the walk was one of great enthusiasm and joy. New friendships were made, laughter was frequent, songs were sung, and history was encountered first-hand through the stories of this historic neighborhood. This combined to create a delightful sense of common spiritual cause with one another and the congregations visited along the way. Even neighbors enjoying their front porches on a beautiful September evening (some of whose initial reactions conveyed uncertainty) expressed appreciation when they learned of the purpose of the walk. Others who drove past slowed down to wave their hands and honk their horns in support.

Returning to the starting point nearly two hours later, many participants exchanged contact information and expressed a desire to repeat this event next year. Hearts had been touched by the experience, and we look forward to working with one another and with God that peace would indeed prevail in our neighborhoods. —Tim Harvey

This article originally appeared in Messenger magazine.

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