Willetta McGowen has been a steadfast presence throughout the trial of the three defendants charged in the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery in 2020.

As a deacon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, she joined with interdenominational representatives from throughout the community to share a message of love and unity.

“We’ve been there since the beginning of jury selection. We’ve been holding prayer meetings and continuing as a show of force ever since. Last week, they had all the Black pastors who came in, which was really powerful. We’ve had several news conferences. But we just want to be a presence for peace and for unity,” she said.

As she’s taken her place with other clergymen and women to share that message, she’s talked with a number of locals who still express disbelief about the shooting death of Arbery.

“Most people who come out are there to support the Arbery family. A lot of them still can’t believe that something like this happened in little Glynn County. You never think it would happen in Brunswick. I think many people are still in shock,” she said.

They’re planning to stay that course as jury deliberations loom. That will include a 5:30 p.m. Grace Vigil today outside of the Glynn County courthouse.

“We’re looking to bring another component to this — grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We want to extend that throughout the community,” she said. “We want to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

The Rev. Alan Dyer agrees. The pastor of St. Simons Presbyterian Church says the clergy has sought to be a comfort in the face of pain and anxiety.

“I think that the local clergy’s efforts have been mainly focused on being an embodied presence for our community. I think that we have to trust that we are better together and that God is present working through each of us. We’ve tried to be there for one another across different denominations and faith lines to call for justice, but also for unity and for peace,” he said. “I think that’s really been the bottom line — to work together to be a unanxious presence of faith, standing together as Glynn.”

As the trial moves toward its conclusion, clergy members hope to continue to hold that space, regardless of the outcome. And as many in the community face the uncertainty, Dyer hopes that individuals will hold to their faith and to one another.

“I think we just have to trust. One thing that’s been really powerful for me is our community coming together around these awful circumstances,” he said. “I hope we can continue to stand side by side in prayer. Whatever comes we can face it together and we will be stronger for it.”

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