Amid lingering national heartache over victims of police-involved shootings and officer deaths, plus fresh wounds from violence in France, more than 100 people joined hands in prayer, hugged and held to optimism for healing in Columbus.

Mayor Jim Lienhoop, local police chaplains and leaders of the local African American Pastors Alliance were among those offering words of comfort and hope Friday during a 30-minute service of reflection just before noon on the steps of City Hall.

“I wish desperately that the events that have brought us together had not occurred,” Lienhoop said.

The mayor said he agreed with President Barack Obama’s recent assessment that the United States is not as divided as some people think.

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Lienhoop acknowledged that some “may think that society is coming apart at the seams.” But he asked the audience to look to history for perspective — and for proof that restoration can occur.

The mayor reminded people of past turbulent times: Vietnam war protests, violence and deaths amid the Civil Rights movement and the assassination of national leaders such as President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Despite the despair that many felt during those difficult times, history has proven that we are a resilient people,” Lienhoop said. “And we have never needed that resiliency more than now.”

The Rev. David C. Bosley, pastor at Dayspring Church of God Apostolic and a member of the pastors alliance that helped plan the gathering with local police, spoke of extending condolences to all the hurting. But he let listeners know that words of support often need to be offered amid everyday life.

With that, he encouraged people to come forward and thank Columbus Police Department and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department officers that surrounded him in a semicircle.

“Let them know that you love them,” Bosley said.

Community leader Sherry Stark stepped forward, and with a grin, embraced Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers.

Many others made their way down the row of emergency personnel and shook hands while extending gratitude.

“A people united can never be defeated,” Bosley said.

Local counselor and Columbus Police Department chaplain Nita Evans prayed especially for those wounded in many ways other than bullets.

“We lift our voices in support of all those who too frequently find themselves victims of bigotry, injustice and racism,” Evans said.

Ian Kohen, chairman of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, said his time with the agency has show him, among other things, how “woefully ignorant” he has been of the struggles encountered by black males. He also mentioned developing a better understanding of police officers and their challenges.

“My respect (for them) has grown immensely — one hundred-fold,” Kohen said.

The Rev. Larry Rowe, another Columbus Police Department chaplain, encouraged people to learn “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

And the Rev. Robert Vester, a Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department chaplain, told those assembled that their presence expressed a significant concern.

“Sometimes even just showing up matters,” Vester said.

Among attendees was the Rev. Dan Houze, pastor of Terrace Lake Community Church in Columbus. His son Jake is an officer with the Dallas Police Department, which lost four officers from a sniper’s bullets during a July 7 demonstration. Dad found the gathering and the sentiment meaningful.

“Jake’s a man of faith,” the pastor said. “It will mean a lot to him just to know that other people are praying.”

Three elements aid unity and healing

Mayor Jim Lienhoop asked a crowd at Friday’s service of reflection to consider three steps to build unity and aid healing locally and nationally in the aftermath of racial and other tragic deaths:

  • “You can throw both water and kerosone on a fire” he said of heated discussions. “Choose water.”
  • Participate in calming dialogue about race and other relations, including between emergency personnel and citizens.
  • Have faith that there can be a road to a better tomorrow.

“We have a history (in this nation) of overcoming tremendous challenges,” he said.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.