Prayers for Orlando

More than 2,500 worshipers remember shooting victims--and witness a remarkably moving moment.

 Tuesday night, Central Florida’s evangelical and Pentecostal mega-churches gathered to pray for victims of the Pulse gay nightclub shootings Sunday morning, as well as for The Voice singer Christina Grimmie, who was shot to death the previous Friday in an unrelated incident at The Plaza Live.

 More than 2,500 members of Northland, a Church Distributed; First Presbyterian Orlando;  Life Center Church of Eatonville; and First Baptist of Orlando packed the sanctuary at First Baptist, along with members of half a dozen other congregations. The 90-minute service moved along with near-clockwork precision, as pastors from the area’s largest congregations, joined in the pulpit by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, grappled with the meaning and impact of the shootings.

 “Our hearts are full of sorrow,” said the Rev. David Swanson, of First Presbyterian. He said he was “grateful for other faith gatherings, some taking place even now,” a reference to a simultaneous, ecumenical service at First United Methodist Church downtown. The Rev. Larry Mills, of Mount Sinai Missionary Baptist Church, brought the crowd – most of whom had purple ribbons pinned to their shirts and jackets – to their feet, proclaiming, “Love triumphs over evil!”

 But the most moving part of the evening came when Northland’s pastor, Joel Hunter, said he wanted to cede the microphone, and his speaking slot, to Victoria Kirby York, national campaigns director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. York urged compassion for LGBTQ young people “kicked out of their homes and churches” for being gay, leading to scandalously high suicide rates.

York pleaded for those in the audience to pray for gay worshipers, without requiring them to change who they love. “There are too many people who don’t think that God’s love extends to them,” she said.  

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