Located at a high point in town, it was easy to feel a cool breeze pass through the police station’s parking lot that early Monday morning. The sun, still in the eastern horizon, cast its light on Brighton’s western half, which could be seen down below. It was the perfect place to pray.
“Help us to rest our eyes on you and not the storms raging around us. For that’s where we’ll find our comfort, Lord,” Diana Duncan prayed. She prayed about different storms raging right now — natural disasters and COVID-19.
There was one more, though. One her fellow gatherers also talked to God about: riots.
For months, people have been protesting the police and calling for reform after George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, died at the hands of white officers. Meanwhile, a group of locals has lifted up law enforcement in prayer, hoping protesters’ attitudes will change.
Though the prayer group represents a contrast to the protests, it wasn’t formed as a response. It started 2 1/2 years ago after the death of Adams County Sheriff’s Deputy Heath Gumm. Dave Young, 17thJudicial District Attorney, charged Dreion Dearing with shooting Gumm after a 2018 chase. Dearing still awaits trial.
Former Adams County Sheriff Michael McIntosh sent out an email to local faith groups after Gumm’s death to request prayers. But that wasn’t sufficient to Jen and Joey Rhoads. “We just wanted to put shoe leather to our faith,” said Joey Rhoads, head pastor at Brighton’s Community Baptist Church.
Technically, Jen Rhoads and her friend, Monique Brown, co-founded the group. Joey Rhoads became just as involved as his wife. A reason they wanted to start the group, Jen Rhoads explained, is “to be visible, so that officers can actually see us praying — so that they know it’s not something we just say we’re doing.”
Over time, the group expanded. It gathers at the Brighton police station Mondays, the Lochbuie police station Wednesdays and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office headquarters Fridays. There might be as few as five people or as many as 15 who show up to the weekly gatherings. The Rhoadses estimated about 50 people in total have joined them at one point or another.
Participants are from different churches and denominations, most of which fall under the Protestant evangelical banner. There have been a few Messianic Jewish participants, the Rhoadses said.
Joey Rhoads said he’s not aware of other prayer groups like this one in the Denver metro area or throughout the state. The Rhoadses said their desire is to launch additional satellite gatherings all around, similar to what they did in the Brighton area. They started by only gathering at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office headquarters once a week. They eventually added the other sites.
The group prays consistently for the police, regardless of national political discourse. However, it’s been a different experience recently. The change is a result of a narrative gaining traction “that they’re (police) scary, that they’re out to get us, that they’re self-centered,” Jen Rhoads said.
The Rhoadses and other members of the prayer group see it differently. “We want people to know that these people (police officers) are actually on our side,” Joey Rhoads said. “Their primary job is to help support and protect us.”
Yet in the face of recent challenges to positive notions of police, the prayer group has felt more motivated to do what it does, not less. As a result, the Rhoadses find themselves praying more often that God changes the current “mindset” about police.
At the same time, the Rhoadses and members of the prayer group present at an Aug. 31 gathering (which the Rhoadses did not attend) feel fearful about publicly praying for police with shirts displaying the blue, black and white pro-police American flag. They have also brought the actual flag to gatherings.
Group participants understand why people would have a problem with the spectacle. They just don’t agree with it. “I think if you just saw a group that is pro-police and pro-prayer, they would automatically dub us as far-right conservative,” Jen Rhoads said.
That’s not how the group’s members see it, though. Duncan said the group prays for all government leaders, regardless of party affiliation. In some ways, the group considers itself apolitical.
Yet, “There are certain things that we all stand for,” said Renae McCormack, who was also present at the Aug. 31 gathering. Group members agree, “That all lives matter and that it starts at conception,” she added.
While prayer group members don’t consider themselves political activists, their ties to politics aren’t distant. Renae McCormack’s husband, Tim McCormack, is a Republican running for the 17th Judicial District Attorney in the November general election. His opponent is Brian Mason, a Democrat.
While Tim McCormack wasn’t at the Aug. 31 prayer group meeting, several people prayed for him. One person asked God to ensure his victory.
To Tim McCormack, who’s open about his Christian faith, said he’s “very honored and very humbled” by the prayers. “It doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all,” he added.
McCormack praised the group’s work, and not just because his wife is part of it. Similar to the group, he thinks it’s important that faith is part of the justice system. “I pray for the justice system. I pray for everybody involved in it,” he said. “It’s (the justice system) under attack, and it has been under attack. I pray for guidance often. The Holy Spirit comes down and guides and directs my words.”
McCormack’s faith informed his career as a prosecuting attorney in many ways, he said. One example, he described, is knowing “the distinction between good and evil.”
“I know it (evil), I’ve seen it. You can’t ignore it. You have to confront it and you have to destroy it. If that means removing them from society and putting them in a department of corrections facility, then so be it,” he said.
Like McCormack, the prayer group is less concerned about whether people see them as political. To the members, the stakes are much higher. Labels don’t require their attention, a much larger crisis does. That’s why they gather three times a week every week, rain or shine, summer or winter.
“They (police) have a love for people,” Joey Rhoads reiterated. However, he said, “They just take so much flack, and we’re just trying to help change that paradigm.”