FERGUSON – Any other time, you’d think what was going on Friday night and Saturday near the corner of Canfield Drive and West Florissant Avenue was just another old-fashioned tent revival meeting.
But Friday wasn’t just any night, but the fifth anniversary of the death of Michael Brown Jr. just a short walk to the east.
Yes, the faithful did gather under a tent to pray, worship, sing and listen to some old-fashioned loud preaching. But this being a day with meaning, the organizers saw the event as a chance to ponder the meaning of the Ferguson uprising and to seek healing.
“I believe that there is a spiritual root to a lot of the turmoil that we’ve experienced, and that we are experiencing,” said the event’s leader, Jonathan Tremaine Thomas.
Thomas, a Ferguson resident, is a pastor at Destiny Church in Des Peres and the leader of a nonprofit organization called Civil Righteousness. He’s spent about 16 years working in inner cities and ministered in Ferguson during the unrest five years ago. As a result of the unrest, he moved to the area from Indianapolis in 2015.
“I came during the unrest just to kind of apply some of my skills as a peacemaker,” said Thomas, who is black. “I came to try to provide some spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical help.”
About 70 people, most of them white, sat on folding chairs at the beginning of Thomas’ talk at Friday’s service. The service also was held all day Saturday.
When he called for people who want healing, Ramona Williams, 67, came forward.
Williams, who lives near where Brown was shot, said she saw Brown’s body after the event. She emotionally shared how her grandson, who is now 28, was beaten up by police several days after the shooting. Thomas and others prayed for her and took her name.
“Because they can. They’re still doing it,” Williams said outside the tent after she spoke out. “I saw him laying there, Mike Brown. I didn’t see the shooting,” Williams said.
Williams said the tent meeting was good for Ferguson.
“We need this for healing, and if you do not believe in God, that’s your thing, but we didn’t create ourselves,” she said.
Another at the meeting was Leander Beatty, 67, of Bellefontaine Neighbors. He said the events of Ferguson had been eye-opening.
“But to be honest, the things that we saw happening in Ferguson I had seen or heard of many times,” said Beatty, who is African-American. “It’s just this time, there was a positive effect as far as what went on, as far as change and interaction within the community and the police to better understand each other.”
Beatty said he was at the event to bless the neighborhood.
Kingston Arthur, 27, of Ferguson, the pastor of the Ferguson Christian Church, said he had gotten better at listening to people. “My goal in hearing hurt is to always learn to communicate how I believe the power of the gospel can heal whatever wounds someone is experiencing,” said Arthur, who is white.
Lois Templeton, 56, of Dellwood, who is white, said the events of Ferguson had opened her eyes to the way people treat each other.
“There’s a lot of chaos on both sides. There’s a lot of hurt on both sides. There’s a lot of blindness on both sides,” said Templeton, who is a member of the Ferguson Christian Church. “At the same time, I know that God has a plan, and He created this in us, and he’s using it.”
Brenda Young, 72, who is black, said living in Ferguson was a divine appointment for her.
“I needed ownership in the city, in what God is doing here,” said Young, a member of Destiny Church. “I was not in as much despair as I was in saying that in order for a change to come, there has to come upheaval to make it happen. I was already here because of what God wanted to do in Ferguson.”