The congregation at the First United Methodist Church of South Miami in Coral Gables, on Red Road, is small — no more than 50 worship here these days. But their passion for the church’s teachings and the community is strong.
On the morning after a not guilty verdict was rendered in the George Zimmerman trial, The Rev. Cathy Felber arrived early to work with members of the choir on an appropriate song to begin the healing process.
“Today our topic is on unity among the believers,” she said as she stepped into her church’s Prayer Room for a moment of reflection. “The decision has been made and now our role is to pray for mercy and justice from God and a unity. This is a place where we can come together in prayer and that is the role of the church. As you heard in the song, ‘There’s a place at the table where justice and mercy can be found.’ ”
On Sunday, the community was just waking to the reality that the five-week second-degree murder trial, which spawned a national discussion about race, profiling, Florida’s self-defense laws and gun control, was finally over. For many, there was the feeling that justice wasn’t served for Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens 17-year-old who died of a gun shot wound through the heart after clashing with Zimmerman on a residential street in Central Florida more than a year ago. Church leaders and congregants in Coral Gables looked for answers and prayed for unity so that incidents like this one are not repeated.
Felber felt the makeup of the venerable, decades-old First United church, tucked on a landscaped corner on the boundary of Coral Gables and South Miami, across from bustling U.S. 1, is representative of what people in Sanford, where Trayvon was visiting his father, and Miami Gardens, where Trayvon grew up, must be feeling.
“We’re a small congregation but we have members from Asia, Africa, the islands,” she said. “Some have beautiful homes, some are homeless. Some have PhDs while some have mental illness. People are fighting with all sorts of addictions and pains in their lives. So I think we reflect a great deal of the cosmos of what happened here in this trial. I think we can show that by the way Christians live, there can be an answer for healing in Christ and that this will [happen] less in our country and our communities. Unity and peace at the table is my prayer and it’s time to really go and embrace that.”
As Felber returned to the church’s chapel, members of the congregation had already made their way into the meeting hall to share opinions of the trial and the verdict.
Opinions were as diverse as the membership.
“I’m saying it was an irrational act because how can you make a rational decision when you’re getting beat up and your head is getting slammed against the sidewalk? I’ve been beat up before in my life — several times while in the Army,” 68-year-old Will Harden said. “When you’re getting beat up you can’t think clearly. You’re dazed. You’re mind can’t function. I think the verdict, considering that, was correct. Trayvon was cornering Zimmerman and Zimmerman couldn’t fight very good.
“Another thing, I don’t think anybody else has mentioned is that there had been a pattern of burglaries in that community,” Harden said. “The one witness that affected me the most was the mother who was terrified to be in her house. This is an atmosphere of fear. If a woman is scared to be at home during the day with her child, that’s bad. Trayvon was misjudged and in a situation like that, things happen that are bad. There were other people who were guilty and Trayvon was a scapegoat. He died because of crimes by previous people in the community. ”