In an attempt to maintain peace during the highly-tense George Zimmerman murder trial beginning in Sanford, Fla., on Monday, a group of local pastors has united to sit in the courtroom during the trial and truthfully retell the trial proceedings to their congregations, as well as those gathered outside of the courthouse following the daily hearings.
The group of pastors, known as Sanford Pastors Connecting, has reserved four seats in the second row of the courtroom audience at the George Zimmerman trial, which involves 29-year-old Zimmerman being accused of second degree murder in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in February 2012.
The group of pastors agreed to support the verdict in the controversial court case and to dispel any controversial rumors leaking from the trial which could result in public violence.
Martin, a-17-year-old African American teen, was walking unarmed through a gated community in Sanford where Zimmerman worked as the neighborhood watch coordinator. Zimmerman and Martin reportedly got into a violent altercation in which Martin was shot once in the chest at close range and killed.
National protests erupted after the shooting calling for Zimmerman's arrest after local authorities initially decided not to charge him.
Racial tensions grew especially high in Sanford due to the fact that local authorities decided initially not to charge Zimmerman; many critics argued the authorities were also partaking in racial profiling by not charging Zimmerman.
Zimmerman, who has pled not guilty, now faces second degree murder charges; the prosecution is arguing Zimmerman shot a defenseless Martin because "he wanted to", while the defense is arguing Zimmerman was attacked by Martin and used his firearm in self-defense.
The Sanford Pastors Connecting group reportedly decided to form shortly following the shooting death of Martin, when national protests led by civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton gathered thousands of supporters.
The pastors believe that the verdict of the Zimmerman trial could incite protests in Sanford, and therefore their main goal by attending the trial is to promote a nonviolent reaction from the community, regardless of the verdict.
As the WKMG Local 6 station reports, the purpose of the pastors at the trial is to serve as peacekeepers and informers to the public.
"If we're there, regardless of the outcome, then we're able to go back and communicate to our people the truth," the Rev. Harry Rucker of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford, one of the members of Sanford Pastors Connecting, told the local news station.
"Our concern is that first of all that justice be done and our concern is that people be calm and orderly."
New pastors will rotate into the four courtroom seats daily while many more wait outside of the courthouse to calm those gathered.
The idea of the pastor group attending the Zimmerman trial came about from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Relations Service.
Other pastors in the Sanford Pastors Connecting group include the Revs. Charles Holt of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lake Mary, Sharon Patterson of Getting Your House in Order Ministries in Sanford, Lowman J. Oliver III of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford, and Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Longwood.
The Rev. Oliver III told CNN's belief blog that the verdict of the trial will be God's will.
"We pray that the outcome will be just and fair to all parties," the reverend stated. "How will it look? I'm not able to answer that. Our roles are as peacemakers. It's more important that we send a message that we sustain the peace."
The Sanford Pastors Connecting group also launched the two-day Sanford Peace Conference at the First United Methodist Church earlier in June in preparation for the trial's beginning.
David Charlton, pastor of First United Methodist Church and member of the peacemaker group, told the Orlando Sentinel at the time of the peace conference that the group seeks to shed a positive light on Sanford.
"We are showing the world we are a peaceful community – a place to raise families and have businesses," Charlton told the Orlando Sentinel.
The Sanford Pastors Connecting group, which is comprised of over 100 local pastors, will seek to meet monthly following the Zimmerman case to maintain peace and continue to unite Sanford residents.