A prayer rally held in support of law enforcement Sunday centered in unity — plus urged those in attendance to reach across the racial divide and get to know their neighbor.

Attendance at the event surpassed the wildest dreams of organizers Becky Trull and Amy Lynn.

The event was inspired by late-night texts between the two friends and both decided they would rather take a positive action to give the community hope instead of just “whining and complaining,” Trull said.

“Every one of us is created in the image of God, and look what God can do,” she said surveying the crowd of 100 or so that assembled for the event that was less than a week in the planning stage.

Lynn said neither she nor Trull were community organizers, and neither wanted the event to be political on any way.

“We want unity,” she said.

The group met at the First Baptist Church in Waynesville and was led by a police escort as demonstrators walked down Main Street to the Historic Courthouse where the prayer service was to be held.

The two pastors at the event were Walter Bryson of Shiloh AME Zion Church in Asheville and Danny Heatherly of Bethel, who became fast friends while on a journey to the Holy Land several years ago.

Growing up in Haywood County, Heatherly said he never saw a black person until he entered the 10th grade. The division between races stems from people not knowing each other, he said.

He and Bryson decided to try and change that.

“We decided we were going to get to know one another, go to church together, eat together and learn to love each other by fellowship, not by throwing words at each other,” Heatherly said.

Bryson said Heatherly is someone he trusts and noted efforts over the past several years have ended in some progress.

“I figure whenever we decide to put the Lord first in everything we do, it will work great,” Bryson said. “Yesterday at the rally, I reminded them judgment will begin first with the church and that we have some work to do. I see that everyone talking about the Lord really doesn’t love the Lord. We need to show people we love them.”

During the rally, both expressed gratitude for the law enforcement officers in the community and for what God is doing the community.

“Haywood County has the best law enforcement officers anywhere,” Bryson said. “Sheriff Greg Christopher is truly a man of God.”

Heatherly focused on Matthew 5:9 from the sermon Jesus delivered on the mount — blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. It was the same scripture on many of the rally signs.

While many might assume peaceful people might just be silent rather than confrontational, Heatherly said the scripture is just the opposite of that. As opposed to simply seeking peace, the peace “makers” confront a crisis or situation head-on.

“The sheriff has brought revival to our jail, but we can’t leave keeping the peace to Sheriff Christopher,” Heatherly said, asking all to take action to heal racial differences. “I challenge you to reach out to people of color.”

In pre-COVID-19 days, Heatherly and Bryson organized events where churches with predominantly white or black membership would meet at each other’s churches or speak at tent revivals, Heatherly said.

“There’s been a lot of good outreach,” Heatherly said. “We were just trying to love on them, show them the love of Jesus. We can learn a lot from each other. Every white pastor should have a black pastor in to preach because they have the ability to go into deeper worship.”

Bryson specifically recalled the service at Jones Temple in Waynesville where the crowd was diverse and overflowing.

“Everyone was singing, shouting and praying,” he said. “It was a wonderful time.”

Many at Sunday’s prayer gathering raised their hands when they asked if they had family members in law enforcement.

Laci Scott worked with Trull and Lynn to organize the “patriotic” side of the rally.

Scott helped provide “We Back the Blue” signs that were intermingled with homemade signs supporting various branches of law enforcement.

Pat Taylor had a sign in remembrance of her brother, Calvin, a Highway Patrol officer who lost his life in the line of duty. Steve Brown and Jasmine Gardner drove to Cherokee to pick up a blue and black nylon flag, while others such as Scott carried a “Blue Lives Matter” sign.

Those marching down the street were encouraged to wear masks and to maintain a safe distance in accordance with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

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