Making a difference: not-so-silent prayer
By Ty Johnson
Published in News on March 4, 2013 1:46 PM
Pastor Gregory Jones prays at The Place of Refuge Ministries on Slocumb Street on Feb. 27. Every Wednesday at noon since last October the church has broadcast prayers by Jones and members of his congregation over loudspeakers located outside the front and back of the church for neighbors to hear. The weekly ritual began in response to an increase in violence in the community. The prayers can be heard for several blocks.
Arlinda Raiford sits in prayer during one of the church's weekly prayers.
Each Wednesday, for 30 minutes, the south end of Goldsboro is awash in prayer.
From Devereaux Street to Hugh Street and along South Slocumb Street from East Elm to Olivia Lane, a booming voice asks God's blessings on Goldsboro as cars and pedestrians pass by.
The midweek prayer is an attempt to reverse the tide of violence and crime in the area.
"With all of the violence going on, Goldsboro was getting a bad name," said Gregory Jones, pastor of The Place of Refuge Ministries, who came up with the idea for the regular prayer time.
Late last year, he said, a scripture was laid on his heart -- Chronicles II 7:14, which said that if God's people will humble themselves, pray "and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
Those words weighed heavily on Jones until he saw the passage as a way to encourage healing the city.
"So much has been talked about -- 'What is the church doing?' And that's a fair question -- beyond Sunday morning," he said.
Jones and his church acquired speakers and audio equipment to broadcast from its pulpit to the masses, essentially turning his sanctuary inside out and carrying the voice of prayer two to three blocks in all directions.
But it's not a prayer of obtuse wishes and broad requests for healing -- it's one that outlines specific hopes for the community.
"We pray for specific things. We have an agenda," Jones said.
The prayers, which are prayed by volunteers, ask for safety and peace. They also petition on behalf of the city, its elected officials, the school system, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel -- but some who lift up their prayers from the Place of Refuge pulpit have specific charges.
A young man prays for the youth. A grandmother prays for the sick. A recovered drug addict prays for other addicts.
Jones said the aim of the prayers is simple -- even those who aren't religious understand and acknowledge the power of prayer, he said.
He said he hopes hearing prayer coming from those who have already turned from their wicked ways will comfort the lost and convince others to turn their lives around.
"They'll say, 'My neighborhood is changing,'" he said. "I hope they see the visible manifestation of change because when they see change, they'll see a need to come to church or to come back to church.
"Some of them have lost hope. Maybe they'd like a reason to change or seek change and even see who this person (who is praying) is. Maybe they'll say, 'They're praying for me. He or she is praying specifically for me.'"
And no matter the circumstances -- rain, snow or technical difficulties -- the prayers are spoken.
Jones' audio technician couldn't make it Feb. 6 to handle the loudspeaker hookup, but still those gathered prayed.
"The show -- the commitment goes on," he said. "Under no circumstances will we not have the prayer. Nothing cancels this prayer."
Still, he was concerned that those in the community who look forward to it each week were missing the words of prayer. He hopes they know that even when they don't hear it, it's still happening each week -- a solid half-hour of prayer.
"I hope they take comfort in the fact that every Wednesday from 12 to 12:30 p.m. there is prayer going on," he said.