Culpeper prays for unity among community, law enforcement
By Allison Brophy Champion
Hundreds of local residents from all walks of life filled the Culpeper State Theatre Wednesday night to pray for peace and unity in a time of violence and racial unrest around America. It was also about rallying behind the men and women of law enforcement.
A newly naturalized U.S. citizen born in Africa, the Rev. Erick Kalenga, pastor at His Village Church, organized the thoughtful and uplifting event in the Main Street venue in conjunction with Culpeper police in blue, brown and gray. He started the prayer service by asking audience members to take out their cellphones and take a self portrait.
“Look at the selfie and say that is the problem – it’s not the person next to you,” Kalenga said. “We are going to have to look at ourselves.”
Members of the Culpeper Police Department, Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office and the Culpeper Division Office of Virginia State Police as well as police from surrounding counties were well represented. The community reception for them was warm and supportive as they received a prolonged and heartfelt standing ovation.
Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins, a native son, addressed the crowd saying he has been touched by the outpouring of support his department has received in recent weeks.
“That’s not enjoyed in every community,” he said. “On behalf of all the men and women in law enforcement, thank you for your support. We don’t take it for granted.”
Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins noted the close bond existing between the various local agencies.
“It’s a blessing to not have the strife in our community that many have faced,” he said.
Scott Jenkins got emotional when thanking his staff members for leaving their families every day and risking their lives at work.
“I pray that you are always safe,” the sheriff said.
Todd Taylor, division commander at the Culpeper State Police, commented on a theme of the night about “maintaining the fence before the break.”
“It takes honest and open communication to maintain that fence between police and citizens,” he said. adding, “The citizens are the police.”
Diversity is key to avoiding pitfalls faced by law enforcement daily, Taylor said, noting that job applications to the state police have dropped.
“There is not interest in being a police officer like they’re used to be,” he said.
Taylor challenged audience members desiring to serve their fellow man to apply to be a trooper and become part of the solution. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in saying that, in the end, love wins.
“That’s the greatest gift we can give each other,” Taylor said. “Love is the only thing that can make the fence unbreakable.”
Pastor Kalenga further challenged those in attendance to take personal responsibility for upholding the freedom and liberties enjoyed in America. He said “a blanket statement” does not apply to everybody.
“Yes, things need to be done in the law enforcement community and with us in interacting back,” he said. “We are not here to divide tonight, but to unite. The wrongs need to be made right.”
The Rev. Ron Young, pastor at Alum Springs Baptist Church, was one of several faith leaders sharing the stage. With all the police shootings and violence occurring across America, unity is needed, he said.
“God created race,” Young said. “Man created racism. We need to be the light in the darkness of a world that’s gone crazy.”
The leadership of the historic State Theatre – with its own history of racial segregation – allowed the building to be used at no cost for Wednesday’s hastily-arranged gathering. Director Steven Barker said it was about the simplicity of being a community center.
“It’s a place of performing arts where dialogue happens,” Barker said. “That dialogue is about learning to listen, to communicate, to take pause and step into each other’s shoes before rushing to judgment.”
Town resident Roger Carter was in attendance along with many other familiar faces.
“I want to listen to what’s going on with all the shootings happening,” he said. “It’s kind of rough because everyone wants to live.”
Carter said praying together is a start toward finding a solution.
Culpeper Town Councilman Jon Russell brought his four children to the vigil.
“With all the turmoil going on in a lot of cities, it’s important for Culpeper to send a message that we stand united regardless of race. Culpeper is a loving place and we can set an example for the rest of the country,” he said.
Allison Brophy Champion can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (540) 825-4315.