Community Joins in Prayer Walk

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair


Community Safety Command

For the first time, Toronto Police Service members and faith leaders simultaneously walked in every Division in the city on April 11.

“I am happy to be participating in this interfaith initiative to promote spiritual support, prayer, peace and reconciliation,” said Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue, who joined Toronto Police Chaplain Wendell Gibbs in the 52 Division walk from Yonge & Dundas Square to First Baptist Church.

“Happening across every Division in our city, the Toronto Police is committed to fostering our partnerships with faith leaders to promote our collective commitment to community safety and well being for all Toronto communities.”

Established in 1826, First Toronto Baptist Church is the oldest Black institution in Toronto and the oldest in Ontario.

Gibbs, who has been part of pastoral networks for the last 25 years, is the church’s Pastor.

“We have a city, nation and world that is experiencing unrest,” he said. “We want the faith community that has probably the most possibility of sharing what it means to be peaceful, forgiving, gracious and loving group to help build that bridge.

“By walking hand in hand with law enforcement, we want to show that humanity needs to get back to a place of togetherness, tolerance, patience and unity.”

During the walks, groups stopped to pray.

The inter-faith initiative theme is ‘Unity in Our Community’.

“We want every community to own it,” added Gibbs. “If you take ownership, you can be part of the solution. That will help build the bridges we need.”

Every month for the last 20 years, Toronto Police Neighbourhood Officers in 23 Division and Black faith leaders have walked through Etobicoke, meeting community members and engaging them in prayer.

The Prayer Walk is an extension of the Etobicoke Strategy led by Revs. Carmen Lewis and Andrew King.

They walked with Gibbs and Pogue in 52 Division.

“Police and faith leaders have an opportunity to effect the community all at once at the same time,” said King, who is the Downsview Seventh-day Adventist Church Senior Pastor. “We also want to send a message to the community that faith and police work together. It is our responsibility to collaborate to have safe communities. As people of faith, we understand the power of prayer. We are praying for a safe and healthy city where people can live and work while being safe.”

Superintendent Ron Taverner was integral to the establishment of the prayer walk in 23 Division and the Etobicoke Strategy in 2004.

Because of the heavy rain, the officers and faith leaders walked in Albion Mall.

“We have been doing the walks in our community for the last two decades and it is great to see it being done in every Division,” Taverner said. “We have had great interaction with citizens in our area and built great inroads.”

Superintendent David Rydzik walked with 43 Division officers in the Dolly Varden and Danzig communities.

“Faith plays a strong role in many people’s lives,” Rydzik said. “Having officers out walking in unity with our faith leaders is a strong statement to our communities that we are united in trying to create safer communities for everyone. Because it is multi-faith, this is going to appeal to hopefully to everyone in our very diverse community.”

Group of people in a circle
Participants in the Prayer Walk at 31 Division stopped to pray

Officers in 31 Division walked with faith leaders from Oakdale Community Centre on Grandravine Dr. to the Jane & Finch Mall.

“Hopefully, this walk will create an understanding among community members that faith is very important,” said Superintendent Andy Singh. “Collaboration between police and faith leaders is a critical piece in creating a sense of togetherness that could benefit our community.”

Superintendent Andrew Ecklund led the walk with faith leaders from 11 Division to Percy Cummins Parkette where they prayed, before heading to Pelham Park Gardens.

Cummins died in the line of duty in 1981 and the parkette to honour his memory opened in 2012.

“It is my expectation that this walk will help build relations with our community,” Ecklund said. “Having them see the bond we have built with our faith leaders, we hope, will enhance that bridge building.”

In 53 Division, Superintendent Greg Cole walked with officers and faith leaders around the Yonge & Eglinton community.

“With all the noise out there, it is nice to have a moment of quiet reflection,” he said. “Our days are filled with so many hectic things, so it is good to get together with our faith leaders without having to respond to calls.”

Bishop Ransford Jones chairs the Canadian Black Clergy & Allies that emerged in 2020 in the wake of the George Floyd murder in Minnesota.

He walked in 52 Division.

“We believe that prayer makes a huge difference in effecting change,” Jones said. “There is value in it. Walking with police in the city gives us the impetus to do that.”

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