The Bulloch County Ministerial Association, comprised of local religious leaders, hosted a community prayer service on the Bulloch County Courthouse lawn Wednesday evening.

According to Reverend Taylor Hartman of First Presbyterian Church of Statesboro, the event was organized in response to the “too-long season of rampant gun violence, widespread silence, willful inaction, and what feels like… wasted tears and prayers.”

Watch full service VIDEO here:

Wednesday’s service comes after a string of recent tragedies across the nation, specifically the shootings in Buffalo, New York; Irvine, California; and Uvalde, Texas, which left a collective 32 dead and 25 others injured.

“How long, O Lord?” we cry.
“How long?” you respond, “You tell me.”
A holy, loving groan spoken from both the Heavens and the Earth soaked in lost life.
“You have been given unto one another as a gift… you were made in my image,” you whisper. “Don’t you remember?”

– Excerpt from a prayer by Rev. Taylor Hartman
Rev. Taylor Hartman pauses briefly during her remarks at Wednesday’s prayer service on the Bulloch courthouse lawn
CREDIT: Bobby NeSmith/Grice Connect

Dozens of community members gathered outside the Courthouse to offer their prayers and convey a unified message of hope. Among them was Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar.

“This event caused me to really reflect on… the fortune of [the] families that are able to go home and embrace their children,” McCollar said. Just moments after addressing the crowd, he left the event to attend his own son’s graduation ceremony at a nearby high school. With an audible catch in his voice McCollar lamented, “Nineteen babies will never have that day.”

Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar looks on as local faith leaders offered prayers following recent tragic shootings.
CREDIT: Bobby NeSmith/Grice Connect

Father Charles Todd of Trinity Episcopal Church led the crowd in a series of prayers calling for the choral response, “make us instruments of Your peace.” Among these prayers was a call-to-action for both the Church and the local community. “God of Justice, help us find our voice. Empower us to change this broken world and to protest the needless deaths caused by gun violence. Give us power to rise above our fear that nothing can be done. Grant us the conviction to advocate for change.”

The evening’s final speaker, Reverend Bill Bagwell of Pittman Park United Methodist Church, shared a conversation between himself and his daughter, who is an elementary school teacher in Chatham County. “[She] called us on her way to school, and she was barely able to speak because she was filled with such grief,” he said. “She wondered how those parents of those children… were bearing this burden.”

Father Charles Todd (foreground) and Rev. Bill Bagwell (background) at Wednesday’s prayer service at the Bulloch County Courthouse
CREDIT: Bobby NeSmith/Grice Connect

Bagwell also reiterated the words of a fellow Methodist minister from Arlington, Virginia: “Here we are again, hiding in the bathroom so our children… do not hear us weeping, hugging them longer and tighter than usual, and asking ourselves how long we will continue to allow our children to be slaughtered due in-part to our refusal to wade into the water of gun rights.”

He continued, “Here we are again saying, ‘thoughts and prayers are not enough’. Yet we continue to live in a nation that tolerates the killing of children without addressing limits on gun ownership. The Second Amendment did not come down from Mount Sinai. [It] will never be more important than human life.”

Community members gathered on the Bulloch courthouse lawn Wednesday evening for a prayer service
CREDIT: Bobby NeSmith/Grice Connect

The service concluded with the ministers taking turns reading aloud the names of the deceased:

Aaron Salter
Alithia Ramirez
Amerie Garza
Amy Garza
Andre Mackniel
Annabell Rodriguez
Celestine Chaney
Eliana Garcia
Elijah Torres
Eva Mireles
Geraldine Talley

Heyward Patterson
Irma Garcia
Jacklyn Cazares
Jaliah Silguero
Jayce Luevanos
John Cheng
Jose Flores
Katherine Massey
Lexi Rubio
Maite Rodriguez
Makenna Elrod

Margus Morrison
Miranda Mathis
Naveah Bravo
Pearl Young
Roberta Drury
Rojelio Torres
Ruth Whitfield
Tess Mata
Uziyah Garcia
Xavier Lopez

Bobby NeSmith

Bobby NeSmith is a Bulloch County native who enjoys connecting with our community. He first discovered his love for media at Portal High School and is known for his thoughtful and engaging contributions...