Calvary Montclair Prayer Walk
Calvary Montclair Prayer Walk

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Seeking Unity & Reconciliation Through Christ: Calvary Montclair Leads Community Prayer Walk

Story by Margot Bass
Photos by Jonathan Towns

As nearly 50 believers in Montclair, CA, completed a prayer walk asking God to heal sinful hearts and reconcile a divided country, one small group quietly pulled away. These seven men and women—each a slightly different shade of skin color—held hands tightly in a close circle, praying fervently for unity outside the Montclair Police Department. The circle was made up of prayer walkers, as well as several people who had also come out that day to separately and peacefully protest racial injustice against African Americans.

The prayer walk was organized in part by Joe McTarsney, senior pastor of Calvary Montclair, who also serves as a chaplain for the Montclair police and fire departments. The plan was born as he and Vicki Brobeck, a fellow volunteer chaplain for the city, had pleaded for their city during their own regular prayer walks. Before the start of the community prayer walk, Joe encouraged the gathered believers: “There is power in prayer. Thank you for coming together and being a part of a unified solution. We need solutions, and this is the solution—to come before the Lord.” Participants came from Calvary Montclair and at least two other city churches.

Pastor Jeo leads prayer walk

Joe McTarsney, pastor of Calvary Montclair, CA, leads prayer walkers from several churches on June 6. They walked to promote racial reconciliation, community healing, and justice in the city and country in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

After opening with prayer, the group proceeded slowly, ending at the police department’s flagpole for more prayer and live worship, including a rousing rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Pastor Joe himself brought praise music to the march, pulling a dolly bearing loudspeakers along the half-mile route. The mayor, a councilwoman, the city’s representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, and police chief joined, either in the walk or at the police station. “We thought this was the perfect place to conclude the walk because at the flagpole, we prayed that this nation would be truly under God—words that are in the Pledge of Allegiance,” Joe declared. Most walkers carried signs they had made to purposely convey specific messages, most from Scripture and some from the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Signs that glorified the Lord were important to us,” Joe affirmed. Many cars honked approval as they passed.

children with police officer

Children get acquainted with Montclair Police Chief Robert Avels during the prayer walk. Their parents were peacefully protesting racial injustice across the street from the prayer walkers.

Ministering to Protestors

The walkers met protestors along the way, who ended up across the street from the police station during the prayer and worship service. One woman held up a sign: “Defund the Police, Fund Human Services and BLM.” Joe explained, “They had their own agenda, but they heard our prayers and everything that we were proclaiming about the Lord.”

Concerned that the protestors, although peaceful, might overshadow their efforts, one of the Calvary Montclair believers approached the group to politely share why they had gathered. Edwin Ragay explained, “We wanted to tell them that we were there for prayer and to support the community and police department.” That led to a conversation with one of the protestors, an African American woman who responded that she, too, was a Christian. Later, the woman and her adult son crossed the street to talk more with the prayer walkers. Edwin related, “We basically shared that God loves us and that He’s the one who’s going to change people’s hearts and this whole situation. Before we finished, we held hands with them and just prayed for the Lord to move in each one’s heart and that we would be able to trust that the Lord is in control.”

Pastor Joe leads group in prayer

Pastor Joe prays with believers before they start their half-mile walk to the police station. “There is power in prayer,” he encouraged them.

Edwin added that the day’s events spurred the spread of the Gospel. “Even our conversations [with the protestors] might have shown them the Lord cares for every one of us. Our faith, especially in prayer, shows the love of God to others,” he observed. “You hear sometimes that we’re the only Bible some people read. We wanted to show in our march that God loves us all and is the one who brings forth peace in this world.”

Kristina Towns, an African American member of Calvary Montclair, talked to the protestors as well. “I enjoyed talking to them because the reality is that everyone’s processing differently what’s going on. If we just stay in our churches and only talk to each other, we can’t really reach out to our community. People are hurting. Everyone, from all walks of life, needs Jesus. Even those who are angry and frustrated need prayer and to be directed to Jesus,” she expressed. Kristina, who walked with her family, believes the walk could promote healing while giving God the glory. “It was a huge, positive thing to pray openly over the city. People from different backgrounds were able to hear God’s Word, understand it, and sing about grace. We all need experience in receiving God’s grace—and giving it,” she stated.

a group of people praying

Calvary Montclair believers, and protestors from another group, pray for unity. The group shared fruitful conversation and dialog before praying.

At one point, Eddie Bravo from Calvary Montclair found himself at a curb standing between two protestors. “One of the things that blessed me the most was that we were intermingled; they respected us, and we respected what they were doing. It was acknowledgement that God could be there in the midst of it all,” Eddie said.

Addressing Injustice

At the flagpole, Joe shared Micah 6:8: He has shown you, O man, what is good; And and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. “So we prayed that God would give us the strength to be our ‘brother’s keeper’ (Genesis 4:8-10); that whenever we hear of or see any acts or hear ungodly words that would cause harm to another human being, that God would give us the courage—and fill us with His Holy Spirit—to address it correctly,” Joe recalled. “We prayed that we would stand for integrity, righteousness, and godliness. I believe that God is calling His believers in the churches to stand on those pillars, the sure foundation.”

people walking together with signs

Prayer walkers flood the sidewalk on their way to the police department. They enjoy praise and worship music coming through speakers that Pastor Joe (front right) is pulling. Walking next to him is Vicki Brobeck, a chaplain for the city of Montclair.

Dyane McTarsney, Joe’s wife, warned, “When society takes God out of the picture, we’ve now seen just how depraved mankind can be. We’re made in the image of God, each one knit together in our mother’s womb; Jesus thought each one of us worth dying for. Our [skin color differences] should be celebrated and not used to divide.”

Joe asserted, “We need to speak the truth. That’s what the Apostle Peter did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He told them [the Jews who would become believers in Jesus] that it was they who had put Jesus on the cross. He was so empowered with the Holy Spirit, and he spoke with boldness and clarity. We need to get better at that, starting with the [church], in any profession, in homes, and in relationships.”

Learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. Isaiah 1:17

Being the Church

It was the first prayer walk for many who attended, Joe said. “We’re called to go out into society and be salt and light. That’s what the first disciples did. Even with the unrest and COVID-19, God is calling us to reset, refocus, re-energize, and refill for His mission,” he exhorted. “I believe that God is positioning His Church [for righteous action] as we have gotten back to what the church is supposed to be about—equipping people with the Word of God so they can let their light shine so that people can see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).”

Dyane pointed to Romans 12:2 to guide Christians in these difficult days: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. “We need our minds to be transformed, but the rest of Romans 12 is so powerful—love must be sincere, hate what is evil, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, honor one another. Can you imagine [what would happen] if we lived out honoring one another above ourselves?” she asked. “[There is also] sharing with those in need, practicing hospitality, blessing—not cursing—those who persecute us, living in harmony with one another, and not being proud. I see a lot of pride inside and outside the church.”

group waits at stoplight

The prayer walkers from several churches wait to cross the street.

Amy Clark is another believer from Calvary Montclair who attended the prayer walk. “I’m a Christ-follower, and that means I’m to emulate how He lived. His message was to take care of the outcast, widows, and orphans, and to love your neighbor as yourself. That has to be my message, too,” she exclaimed. “We are all, every one of us, created in the image of God. No one is better than anybody else. The problems [the church is] having stem from the misunderstanding of who we are in Christ. Yes, sin plays into it; but ultimately, if we don’t understand that our neighbors are made in the image of God, then that’s the problem. We need to figure that out and love others.”

Kristina admitted that she’s stepped back from listening to the noise of media, social media, and tweets to hear from the Lord. “What we need to do next is really just pray, seek the Lord, and hear what He wants from us—asking Him to search our hearts for bias and things we’re not doing right, and to give us direction about how we can help spread His love,” she urged. “We’re [all] sinners in need of a Savior.”

three adults lean against wall

Chaplain Vicki Brobeck, Pastor Joe, and Police Chief Robert Avels relax at the end of the prayer walk. Joe and Vicki helped organize the prayer walk.

And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:24

Dyane urged believers to pursue biblical unity. “The world system wants to divide [society], but God wants unity [in the church]. When I start seeing people who may be different than me as my brother or sister in Christ, as co-heirs with Christ, and consider their interests as more important than my own, I become the servant of all, as Jesus said. If we as the church were living what we say we believe, things would be very different.”

A Spiritual Battle

Watching the turmoil of recent weeks has been difficult, Joe agreed. “It’s most definitely a time of need, and our nation is at a point of desperation. But as believers, we can take all that and come boldly before the throne room of grace to find help,” he emphasized. “It’s obvious we don’t need a social reform but a spiritual reform. As Scripture teaches in Ephesians 6:12-13a, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God. We know this has to be fought with the weapons that the Lord has given us, [one of] which is prayer.”

Joe continued, “We wanted to bring Christ into the chaos. And we know that the problem is sin, not skin; God’s grace, not race. Ultimately, it’s a matter of the heart. There has to be a transformation of the heart because the Lord makes us a new creation. As a nation, we’re in desperate need of a spiritual awakening. That comes from repentance, which is birthed in prayer.”

prayer walkers with signs

“Pray Without Ceasing”: The prayer walkers purposely crafted scriptural messages to carry on the walk. Many passing drivers honked their approval.

Prayer, Dyane explained, is powerful and the best action believers can take; it’s not telling God what to do, but admitting we need help. “There’s a virus going on, and we can’t fix it. People are dying and fearful, and then we have this awful killing of George Floyd, which should never have happened. I haven’t talked to anyone who hasn’t been outraged. On its heels, we have riots and mayhem. Things got so bad, and we realize we are so powerless and that only God can heal,” she stated. “Why would we do anything but go to Him? That doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to people tell their stories or help them in tangible ways, but prayer is first and foremost.”

Kristina reflected on the anger that many now are expressing. “Part of the reason that people protest is that they’re not feeling heard—not by their officials, people in their community, or in general. We have to pray over them because it’s a spiritual battle. We know there is righteous anger, but it’s not permission to sin. While there’s nothing wrong with protesting and being heard, holding onto that anger is not good,” she remarked. “We have to give that over to the Lord and ask Him to replace it with peace and opportunities to promote change. The reality is that no matter how you’re feeling, the answer is Jesus. Let’s point them to Jesus.”

people pray

In a tender moment, Calvary Montclair believers huddle in prayer with protestors from another group.

Kristina added that she appreciated the involvement and support of the Montclair Police Department during the prayer walk. “Being a police officer is an extremely hard job. They have to make hard decisions in a split second. We need to pray that God would give them wisdom, discernment, and open, objective eyes.”

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

The prayer walk was not political, Dyane said. “The most important part was to pray, to invite God into the turmoil of our nation. We know that He sees and hears and that He is powerful enough to act. Our problems are too great for man to solve, and we need to go to the one who can solve them—Jesus.” She urged believers to live out the reality of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. “There’s a battle going on, and if we want to see clearly, we need to have God’s eyes and heart.”

mother and child

A mother carries her sign and pushes her young child during the Montclair prayer walk.

Community Involvement

As lawlessness increases, Pastor Joe urgently challenges Christians, especially pastors, to engage with their local governments, even serving at the council level or as chaplains for first responders. “Community leaders know they can turn to pastors to bring prayer when crisis comes. There will be more crises, unfortunately, because we live in the Last Days before Jesus’ return. I believe people in the church need to start positioning themselves in those places so that when these lawless times come, our cities will call upon us.” The Montclair Police Department supported and participated in the prayer walk. “Our mayor has my cell phone number, “Joe said. “In fact, he reached out to me and others to pray for the city.”

Dyane concluded, “Anytime we can gather together and unify at the feet of Jesus, God’s going to move. Churches are here to minister and be a blessing.”

cmontclair.com

people praying

Wearing a t-shirt asking, "Need Prayer?", Pastor Joe leads a group of believers on a prayer walk through the Montclair community.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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