About 30 minutes before the Boynton Beach city commissioners gather for their meetings on Tuesday nights, the City Hall parking lot is taken over by prayer.
There’s men and women holding hands and singing while praying for the city and the officials who are about to make decisions affecting the community.
The creators of the prayer group are known as the Boynton Beach Clergy Coalition. The coalition is made up of about 25 ministers, all who either live or work in Boynton.
Their goal is to become known as a source of information, to be seen and heard as one voice, and to be a body of comfort to community members.
“We want to see unity, and that’s what it’s all about. So when there are events … those of us that are pastors here will have a voice,” said Apostle Tommy Brown of the New Disciples Worship Center. “Be able to pray, be able to talk and do whatever we need to do to bring unity in the city.”
The coalition — which is open to all denominations and races — was officially created in June, but the members say it’s an idea that’s been in the making for a while.
The coalition plans to hold community activities and be proactive in creating peace in neighborhoods. They also believe they will be important in a time of crisis, such as when a video of a Boynton officer kicking a boy’s feet out from under him was circulating on the Internet in May. Members met with Police Chief Jeffrey Katz and then disseminated the information they learned from the chief to their congregations.
“There was some information put out there that kept us calm,” said Pastor Nathaniel Robinson III of the Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Because this thing went viral, and people were upset. And I know there are processes, but everybody on our street doesn’t know that. And if they can hear from us … I think we’re able to alleviate some of that anger.”
Katz said he’s met with some of the coalition members several times and thinks the group will benefit the community.
“I think when violence erupts it usually erupts out of fear, and fear usually comes from not knowing, so having open dialogue and communication is essential and this mechanism really allows for that,” Katz said.
The Rev. Woodrow Hay of St. John Missionary Baptist Church said the coalition formation is long over-due.
“I think the closer we are and the more we know of each other the more we’ll be able to resolve issues that happen to pop up in the city,” said Hay, who is also a Community Redevelopment Agency board member and a chaplain with the police department. “Let’s get the facts and let’s not have a riot over misinformation.”
The idea of the coalition started when sisters Janice Rahming and Daphne Clemons were murdered at home in March 2012. At the time, then-Police Chief Matt Immler called the crime “as horrific and violent as Boynton Beach has ever seen.”
“That’s when we all came together for the first time. We didn’t have a name, but that’s when we started having conversations,” Robinson said.
The conversations led to an initiative to make Boynton Beach the safest city in Florida, which led to the creation of a safety fair. The coalition also held a back-to-school fair this year. The prayers in the City Hall parking lot came at a time when the police union and the city were at the height of the tensions about working out a contract.
“If the clergy can come together … and unite as one, hopefully our city leaders and officials — this would reflect on them — they also would be able to come together,” said Pastor Richard Dames of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church. “We believe collectively that prayer changes things, and not just things, but prayer changes people.”