RELIGION
12/02/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2014

Church Prays At Altar With Local Police Following Ferguson Decision

In response to the Ferguson grand jury announcement, one church decided to take a stand with its local police force in a show of community solidarity.

Rev. Tony Lee, founder and senior pastor of the Community of Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, invited Prince George's County Police Chief Mark Magaw and other members of his police department to a special service on Sunday Nov. 30 following the grand jury's decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Tension between police and community members in Ferguson and around the country have run particularly high in recent months following the shooting of Michael Brown, and it was something Lee said Prince George County used to struggle with, as well.

"The police department was an occupying force," Lee told HuffPost over the phone. "But as a result of a justice department investigation and changing leadership, we've been able to get a system that plays much fairer and a police force that sees itself as serving."

Chief Magaw has attended Hope AME before, Lee said, but on Sunday he addressed the congregation, saying, "We are you, we live here, I've raised my kids here, this entire police department, is a part of you and that's where our strength comes from."

Rev. Lee's church has worked with the police department on prevention and rehabilitation programs, particularly with gang-affiliated youth. The partnership is a testament to the "transformation" Prince George County experienced as part of the departmental overhaul, Lee said, and should provide a reference for Ferguson and other communities around the country.

"It takes changes in leadership and leadership that is open to community partnerships," Lee said.

To emphasize the partnership between the community and the police department, Lee invited Magaw and the other officers to pray with him at the altar. He then invited all those who had been incarcerated as well as those who had loved one currently incarcerated to come to the altar. Out of roughly 900 people in one service, Lee said, roughly 40% came forward.

"We had a very touching moment at the altar," Lee said, "with the police chief, his leadership team and all these people who had been impacted very personally by the criminal justice system, all coming to the altar for prayer and seeing the ways we can connect in service."

See footage from the service in the video above.

HuffPost

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