NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, August 18th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we’re so glad you are! Good morning to you. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Economic shutdowns vary in severity across the country, even as protests continue in many U.S. cities. After the death of George Floyd, groups like Black Lives Matter and others have gathered for three months now—sometimes peacefully, other times not.
EICHER: In Ohio, officials estimate protests and riots have cost the state millions in property damage and overtime policing. In the midst of the chaos, one pastor is using a different method of protest: praise and worship.
WORLD correspondent Maria Baer has his story.
AUDIO: [CARS BEEPING, SINGING, PIANO]
MARIA BAER, REPORTER: On Pentecost Sunday, Bishop Johnny Amos of Shiloh Christian Center in Columbus, Ohio, marched his congregation downtown.
AMOS: I was expecting God to move greatly, but I didn’t know exactly what he was going to do. But I had a sense of expectation.
The day before, Columbus Police had declared a state of emergency as impassioned protestors marched downtown. Some broke windows, spray-painted buildings, and scuffled with police officers. The mayor asked the public to avoid the area. Bishop Amos heard another word.
AMOS: The Lord says I want you to go downtown. So I went, and I told the church, hey, the Lord says it’s time for us to be mobile.
Shiloh Christian Center is just a few blocks from the Ohio Statehouse. When Amos and his congregation arrived there on Pentecost Sunday, they made a bit of a scene.
AMOS: Black Lives Matter, and a group called Antifa, had taken over right near Broad and High Street…They heard us worshipping and praising God, and they all came around us and surrounded us, and they listened to us for a minute, then they started yelling: “black lives matter, George Floyd, black lives matter, George Floyd…”
Amos’s group included several other churches he’d invited through social media. A few minutes after the chanting broke out, there came a moment of peace:
AMOS: We began to kneel and pray at the seal, and a good portion of them kneeled when we kneeled. And it was powerful, because the news guy said, look these guys are kneeling down too!
It was the beginning of something. On one hand, it was the beginning of weeks of protests that would cost downtown Columbus businesses and the government an estimated $1.2 million in damage and counting. On the other hand, it was the beginning of a summer of praise for Shiloh Christian Center.
AUDIO: [WORSHIP MUSIC]
Bishop Amos, an African American man, says he too was outraged by George Floyd’s killing. He says God calls His people to stand for justice. One of the strongest weapons in that fight, he says, is worship.
AMOS: Our worship could be our protest. This could be our free right to protest.
So Amos declared 30 Days of Praise: two hours of lunchtime praise and worship every day—complete with pianos, guitars, microphones, and big black speakers. He and his congregation, and anyone else who wanted to join, gathered on the Statehouse lawn each afternoon for an entire month. Churches from all over Ohio volunteered to lead worship and traveled to Columbus to take part
At the beginning of the 30 days, Amos tried to get a permit. But the city had temporarily halted the permitting process because of the riots. The police told Amos he’d have to move his group from the Statehouse lawn to the city sidewalk. He complied. Then, police said the corporate tenants of nearby skyscrapers were complaining about the noise.
AMOS: So we redirected our speakers…And we turned it down again. So we kept adjusting. Once we got complaints and they told us, we adjusted to it.
Some days, the crowd grew to a few dozen worshippers, especially when churches brought groups from out of town. The music attracted onlookers every day, giving Amos and others the opportunity to share the gospel.
AMOS: We’ve had over 30, 35 souls save since we’ve been down here. We baptized two people yesterday…
Mostly, though, a dozen or so dedicated prayer warriors comprised the group that gathered each day on the statehouse lawn. The 30 Days of Praise came and went peacefully, but quickly. A little too quickly, it turns out.
AMOS: There needs to be a continual presence of the Lord downtown. We are now called the Summer of Praise, and we plan out being out here all summer until the Lord tells us not to be.
So, here on a sunny weekday afternoon in early August, Amos and his praying crew are still here. The Ohio Statehouse windows, all along the ground floor, are still boarded up with plywood. A handful of peaceful protestors wearing “Black Lives Matter” shirts have set up a tent a few dozen yards from Amos’s group, but there’s no tension here. Just a few car horns and worship.
PRAYER: We pray for your glory, Father God, to come and change everything. We call on your presence, Almighty God…
Amos says the city police still drive by just about every day. They’ve told him he’ll probably get a citation soon. It hasn’t happened yet.
AUDIO: [WORSHIP MUSIC]
Despite the pressure from police, Amos says a few local state highway patrolmen have privately thanked him for what he’s doing. A handful of patrolmen are stationed at the Statehouse every day. They’ve told Amos they think his group has stopped some of the more aggressive protestors.
AMOS: When we sing this old adage says music calms the savage beast. They have told us, you guys disrupt their plans that they had.
Still, this isn’t about a battle with other activists. Amos says his ultimate goal is to bring the Word of God to a hurting city.
AMOS: This is exactly what needs to be released in our streets to have peace in our streets, in our communities. Is the presence of the Lord.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Maria Baer in Columbus, Ohio.