Pastor Hikes 780 Miles Fighting Violence
On Saturday afternoon a New York City pastor will walk into downtown Cleveland’s Public Square. What makes his story remarkable is that he's walked all the way from his own church to be there. And as ideastream’s Rick Jackson found while hiking alongside him through Trumbull County earlier this week – he’s only halfway to where he’s headed.
Reverend Al Taylor has the kind of outgoing personality that charms people the moment he speaks….
(Taylor) “Hey how you guys doing? I'm on a prayer walk from NYC to Chicago.. Wanna join me?...... Ah c'mon.”
He’s a former military police officer turned preacher, who wanted to start a church in Harlem; but was asked instead by the nearby Mennonite congregation, to become ‘its’ leader. Their doctrinal differences proved fewer than their similar desires – as a result, he’s been there eight years.
Critical to making the union work – was a matching desire to take their message of Christianity outside the church building – into the streets…. And that simple idea of walking and praying with residents – changed the face of that neighborhood.
(Taylor) “we noticed in the community, that the crime statistics had gone down, and when we had understanding of where people were doing illegal pharmaceuticals, we would pray in those communities, and we saw transformation happening.”
As the walks and the word spread – Taylor says even the New York City Police Commissioner noted the drop in criminal activity during a stretch of several years.
Then; there was a call from another city with a guns problem - asking what his group of men might teach them... which made Taylor pause... even deflect some of the credit.
(Taylor) “it's not 'we' come in and we have the answer to your solution, we're saying are you willing to sacrifice and contribute something to your community... This is what we do.”
But the people in Chicago – home to so much violence… insisted that they ‘were’ interested.
Eventually, Al Taylor decided the best way to spread the work, and the word – is a step at a time…
He left Harlem August 7th, never knowing where he might slumber at days’ end – traveling two weeks alone, now with his nephew following from stop to stop, in a small car…
What’s been amazing to Taylor - are the people he’s met along the way….
People like mail carrier Lisa Elmore – who offered him directions one morning, then tracked him down later that day, just to see how he was faring.
(Lisa Elmore) "Farmdale is a nice community. (Taylor) I was in Farmdale? (Lisa)You were in Farmdale.... It’s Gustavis township, but its' Farmdale Ohio… " now I want you to send me a post card when you get to the next state...."
Which would be one of two stops in Michigan, after the four cities in New Jersey, 14 in Pennsylvania, nine here in Ohio, and with six stops planned in Indiana before he arrives in Chicago September 9th.
(Taylor) "When I said I was going to walk to Chicago, people laughed, cursed, got off the floor and laughed some more... and said Why" And they said it ain't going to make a difference....
Don't let people tell you what you can do. It does make a difference."
It made a difference to farmer Jim Best – who left his land to walk alongside us for a while – bonding with Taylor immediately…
(Taylor) “What's it like out here? I'm a city guy!
(Jim Best) This is country - and what you see right here... is country, and it's gonna remain that (yes) .... it's not gonna ever going to have houses on it. (yes...)”
(Rick) "Is this the kind of thing that happens all across PA and OH - everybody you meet is your friend?
(Al Taylor) Yeah!... (Jim - why not?) this is what America is - this is what is not being shown on some of those national networks.....
We were interrupted - by a shout from yet another farm we were passing...a friend of Jim best.
(Best) "This is another one of my friends"... (Ray) "Where you going? (Al) Hey! wait - you guys are shirtless.... do I need to be shirtless? (Ray) It's a country thing... (Al) A country thing...” <all laughing>
No wonder he strolled just 15 miles that day – since Lisa, Jim, and Ray weren’t the only people he stopped to chat with….
In a diner in the town of Kinsman, a Mennonite man paid for their meals after a short conversation.
A farmer he chatted with as he passed - heaped vegetables into his cooler as a sustaining 'gift'….
(Rick) What's the message you want people in Cleveland to get from your walk to Chicago?
(Taylor) "Hope - no limits. If you can believe it, achieve it. It's not going to be easy. People will laugh at you, they'll tell you it doesn't make sense... If you have a dream, follow it ...follow it hard. What is the love of Christ? At the end of the day - is that just a conversation on Sundays? Is is something you say it is something you are a part of, but no one knows it because they never see it? It has to be a verb - it has to be transformed into action.
Action like forsaking all you know – to spend a month, walking.
When he gets to Public Square, local ministers will be waiting – having a ‘stop the violence’ rally at which they hope he will serve as an impromptu keynote speaker…. Grasping at any lesson to slow the number of deaths in this city…. As has happened in his own.