The shooting of Trayvon Martin weighed heavily on Holt, of St. Peters. The spiritual leader who had been living in Sanford for 12 years thought about the teen’s death frequently. He considered the troublingly few details known about that rainy night and worried about what might happen to his community in the aftermath of the shooting, the trial and once the spotlight dimmed. So Holt turned to his faith, inviting pastors to Holy Cross Episcopal Church in downtown Sanford for a Good Friday worship and prayer service, weeks after Trayvon’s death. About 60 pastors — white, black, Hispanic — from churches in the area answered the call.
“I just felt like our city needed prayer, that we needed to ask God to help guide us through this challenging moment,’’ said Holt. “With all the attention we were getting, there was so much potential for divisiveness.’’
That noon service became part of a larger movement to help the city heal with the Justice Department, city of Sanford and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office working together.
Among the ideas that came out of the early meetings: the formation of Sanford Pastors Connecting, the group of clergy charged with spreading a message of peace and encouraging dialogue among dissenting factions.
And on Monday, the pastors begin monitoring the trial from inside and out of the courtroom, serving as front-line reporters for their communities in the hope that a constant flow of accurate information from a trusted source will give Sanford residents a sense of relief.
For the trial, expected to last up to six weeks, the city has designated three public areas for “free speech” to accommodate the crowds expected to gather outside the courthouse.
“We recognize there will be a public response whether George Zimmerman is found guilty or not,’’ says Bonaparte, the city manager.
He wouldn’t offer specifics on the additional security measures for handling the response, noting only that “we are prepared for various scenarios.’’
Holt said he is hopeful the public, from Sanford or elsewhere, will respect the verdict.
“This trial will either divide our community or bring us together,’’ Holt said. “We can let the demons rule or the better angels rule. We have to make the choice.’’