(Photo: Reuters/Steve Nesius)
Sanford Pastors Connecting, a local group of pastors in Seminole County, Fla., formed shortly before the George Zimmerman murder trial, will be holding weekly prayer meetings following Saturday's verdict which found Zimmerman "not guilty" of second degree murder and manslaughter.
The purpose of the meetings is to maintain peace in the Florida community and continue to address racial tensions after nationwide protests erupted when Zimmerman was found not guilty of all charges in the murder case of unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot by George Zimmerman in February 2012.
The weekly prayer meetings will take place each Monday at noon, with the first one taking place earlier today at New Life Word Church, and was attended by Mayor Jeff Triplett, City Manager Norton Bonaparte, and Police Chief Cecil Smith, according to The Associated Press.
Some local residents attending Monday's "Noon Prayer Day" did so to express disappointment at the six-woman jury's verdict on Saturday.
"It's putting out a mixed message to the United States of America: 'You can commit a crime and nothing will be done.' That's not good," local resident Starregina Lawrence, who attended Monday's prayer meeting, told WKMG Local 6.
The Rev. Charlie Holt of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lake Mary told USA Today that the goal of Sanford Pastors United is to keep the community connected following the verdict.
"Our call is to pray for our community for the long-term unity, peace and strength of relationships," Holt told USA Today.
"Our churches welcome any and all to come and offer prayer to the Lord for ourselves, for all involved and for our community," Holt continued.
"Prayer is what it takes to continue to move forward in our ever-changing society," Holt added.
At a special prayer service held by the pastors' allegiance on Sunday, many attendees shared how the trial had affected their lives.
"Even though the verdict was done the way it was done, we're still going to keep hope alive," Areitious C. Teemer Jr., a member of Allen Chapel AME Church who attended Sunday's special prayer service, told Bay News 9.
"I still feel like something is going to be done, and it's going to be done right," Teemer added.
The coalition of Seminole County pastors also played a role in peacekeeping during the Zimmerman trial, reportedly reserving four seats in the Sanford courthouse.
Following the daily hearings, the pastors then served as peacekeepers, attempting to dispel false rumors that traveled to the community outside of the court room.
Other members of the Sanford Pastors Connecting group include 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, among others.
Reactions following Zimmerman's verdict on Saturday have varied, with influential leaders such as President Barack Obama advising the American public to remain peaceful.
Obama requested, in a statement following the jury's ruling, that "every American […] respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son."
"And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we're doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities," Obama added.
Those contesting the verdict participated in peaceful rallies outside of the Sanford courthouse on Sunday, as well as across the nation, including California and Wisconsin. There was minor vandalism as a result of protests in Oakland, Calif., but the majority of nationwide protests remained peaceful and simply decried Zimmerman's acquittal.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that in spite of Zimmerman's acquittal, the Justice Department would continue investigating the Zimmerman case for possible civil rights charges.