In the sunlit lobby of the State College Municipal Building, the group joined hands, bowed their heads and prayed.
Just minutes earlier on Friday afternoon, a sheet of rain had swept through downtown. The sun had peeked out by the time Tom King, the chief of police, thanked the community for its support.
The gathering, which brought together members of the community and the State College Police Department, was organized that morning, a show of solidarity in the wake of the shootings in Texas, Minnesota and Louisiana. Pastors from local churches helped coordinate the meeting in a matter of three hours. They credited Dean Lindsey, the pastor at State College Presbyterian Church, for reaching out to King and helping marshal support.
“We’re proud to wear our badge; we’re not ashamed of our profession,” King told the group. “But knowing that all of you took time to come out today and pray for us, to show you care for us and to show how much we all care about our community is what it’s all about.”
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Words of resilience and reconciliation echoed around the circle. Several spoke of celebrating differences rather than allowing them to cleave a divide between one another.
Harold McKenzie, the head pastor of Unity Church of Jesus Christ, spoke of continuing to build a dialogue, whether one has a badge or not. As King shared his gratitude, McKenzie draped an arm around the shoulder of a neighbor. Moments before, they had rested their hands on the officers’ shoulders as a final prayer was said.
“There’s still a lot of working and growing needed to do,” McKenzie said. “But I think this kind of event today is again that fruit of people coming together and seeing how we can build a better community.”
After King received the call from Lindsey on Friday morning, he was humbled by the gesture. After tragedy, the healing process is far from a solo effort, he said.
“Dean Lindsey felt a strong sense of conviction that in the wake of all of the violence that we’ve experienced as a nation this week,” said Ben Wideman, the campus pastor with University Mennonite Church, “that we should surround our law enforcement and lift them up in prayer as they face a difficult situation.”
As the group dispersed, several embraced before going their separate ways. After exchanging words with his fellow community members, McKenzie smiled. Then he stepped out into the sunlight.
King thanked him before he left.
“We have a hard time controlling what happens in Louisiana and Minnesota and Texas,” King said. “But we can do a lot to make sure we’re taking care of our own community.”
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy