A Prayer Walk for Racial Peace is scheduled for Sunday, July 24, at 5:30 p.m. in Wildwood beginning at City Hall. It will be an opportunity for a number of local churches, including four United Methodist churches in The Villages and Wildwood area, to join in a multi-racial, interfaith community prayer gathering and walk to “stand together in a non-violent and loving presence,” said Mike Beck, senior pastor of Wildwood and Oxford United Methodist Church and an organizer of the event.
Beck said this event will take place in an area of the state where it is “very segregated” along racial lines and where a recent murder of a black man in the Wildwood community brought unrest. In addition, recent national events with racial tensions have precipitated the need for pro-active peace efforts, Beck said.
Sheila Raye Charles, daughter of the legendary Ray Charles, will perform at the kick off of the march.
Beck said he has been working for four years on the idea of multiracial connections and relationships in the community. “Wildwood is a very racially segregated place, which I don’t believe is God’s design for human community,” he said. Beck’s friend, Pastor Eric Williams of Remnant Fellowship Worship Center in Wildwood, recently held a prayer gathering in response to the Wildwood murder.
“At the same time, our Wildwood Fresh Expressions committee, which includes leaders from multiple denominations, was praying about how we could help bring healing to our community. God brought the two groups together. We both felt like the next logical step would be a peaceable demonstration of love and unity,” said Beck. The new coalition of church leaders is now meeting regularly to work for systemic change in the Wildwood community, he said.
The four UMCs participating are: Wildwood UMC, Oxford UMC, New Covenant at Lake Deaton and Belleview UMC. Other churches include Pastor Williams’ Remnant Fellowship Worship Center, St. Timothy’s Catholic Church, United Church of Christ in the Villages and five other churches.
In addition to churches, representatives from Wildwood Police Department, Sumter County Sheriff’s Department and several county commissioners are expected at the walk on the July 24.
Ms. Charles also will share her story in song and word at New Covenant UMC at The Villages on Friday, July 22 at 6 p.m., at Wildwood UMC at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 24, and at 11 a.m. at Oxford UMC on the July 24.