What’s in a prayer?

If organizers of the Prayer Walk have their way — hope, love, peace and an end to violence.

A diverse crowd of 125-plus people from Madison and surrounding areas prayed, walked and sang together on Monday night, August 7, in response to increasing violence in Madison.

Pastor Marcus Allen addresses the crowd at Penn Park

The walk started at Penn Park on Madison’s south side and made stops at the South Madison Transfer Point, the Goodman South Madison Library, the Boys and Girls Club and ended at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Marcus Allen, pastor at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, led the walk and the prayers, which were printed on business cards and passed out to the crowd. The cards read: Peace, Unity, Hope, Jobs, Housing, Community, Direction, Strength, and God’s Presence. The group recited this prayer at each stop on the walk.

“We made up 80 cards and they’re all gone. I can’t believe how many people showed up,” said Allen.

Allen got the idea for a prayer walk the previous week at Vacation Bible School.

“A group of young adults wanted to take action so we came up with this on Thursday and we’re out here on Monday,” he said.

Allen picked popular gathering places for families and children as stops on the walk. Places like Penn Park, the Boys and Girls Club and the library. The bus transfer point was selected because there was an assault there recently. The walk ended at the church for prayer and song.

Sedric Morris, Rafeeq Asap and Sherman McNeil, members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Gamma, Gamma, Gamma Chapter, helped assist at the event.

“Parents are fearful. Kids are fearful. They’re afraid that they can’t play at the basketball court here at Penn Park. It’s an eerie feeling,” he said.

Allen explained that the purpose of the walk is to increase the visibility of the church in the community and provide hope.

“So many are struggling with housing, finances and illness,” Allen said. “I can’t help everybody, but I can provide hope. However, it can happen if we team up together as a community. We’ll start with prayer but there’s more to come. Prayer alone doesn’t work. It’s a collective effort. No one group will fix the multiplicity of problems. We’re channeling love and commitment to help others.”

Prayer at Boys and Girls Club

He cited a Biblical story as inspiration for the walk.

“In the Bible, there is a story of how three armies banded together to conquer King Jehoshaphat,” Allen said “However, instead of creating a plan to fight, the King calls his people together to pray and God helped them.

“We believe that God will intervene on our behalf and help us through this increase in violence and show the way,” he added.

Joe Thomas, chair of the deacon’s board at Mt. Zion, and church member for 30 years, has felt the impact of violence at the church and believes prayer can help.

Joe Thomas, Chair of the Deacon’s Board at Mt. Zion Baptist Church

“As one of the larger churches in Madison, we host the vast majority of funerals. Every other week we have to bury a young person. We have to address mourning families and talk to the kids. We try to do our part,” he said. “Gatherings like this help give hope.”

Attendance at the event included Madison leaders such as Police Chief Mike Koval, UW Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings, Alder Maurice Cheeks, Judge and Pastor Everett Mitchell, as well as members of the South Madison community and the surrounding area.

Kathy and Jon Eckenrod came from Cross Plains to participate in the event. Kathy is realtor and a board member at Madison area Urban Ministry (MUM).

“We try to get involved and be aware of what’s happening and do what we can to make a difference,” she said. “We need to be more connected. It’s important to give people hope. We can’t ignore things. Faith doesn’t mean much if we don’t engage.”

Megan Laws, a teacher from East Madison, saw the notice for the event on Facebook. She was involved with the National Night Out in South Madison. “There is a big problem with violence and this is something I wanted to stand up for,” she said.

At the final stop at the Boys and Girls Club on Taft Street, Allen stopped to pray a little longer for the kids, and then led the walk back to the church, all the while praising and thanking God.

“Hallelujah, Thank you, God,” he repeated.

The crowded responded back as if at church.

Church choir led the group in song at the end of the walk at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

At the church, musicians led the crowd in a boisterous rendition of “On the Battlefield for my Lord.” Many people clapped and sang along.

Allen closed by calling on the city to come together in prayer like King Jehoshaphat and to wait for God to show up.

“This battle is not ours, it’s God’s. We are the church and we lead with prayer,” he said.

Written by Diane Schwartz

Diane Schwartz

Diane Schwartz is a writer, educator, activist and the founder of Outdoors 123, an organization dedicated to creating community through the outdoors.