The inaugural Unite Williamson prayer breakfast hosted hundreds of representatives from churches, synagogues, mosques and temples across Williamson County on Saturday.
A handful of local faith leaders shared their interpretation of what unity looks like to them in Williamson County, including the Rev. Kenneth Hill of Shorter Chapel AME Church.
After the 2015 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where nine members were killed, Hill felt called to organize a prayer vigil at Shorter Chapel for the victims.
“God said to me during that evening as I dropped to my knees crying that we need to bring our leadership together here in the city of Franklin, our religious leadership and have a prayer vigil,” Hill said.
Hill also felt very emotional after hearing of the tragedy since he knew the church pastor quite well.
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore attended the prayer vigil over a year-and-a-half ago, and Hill describes both men being “led by God” during that time and later had a meeting to form what is now called Unite Williamson.
Moore founded the organization, not in his official capacity as mayor, but as a resident of the Williamson County community after witnessing the response of the diverse faith-based community following the church shooting. The plan is to make it an annual event.
Just last week another tragedy struck, but this time closer to home. Hill mentioned the five family members who were found dead in their Columbia home on Oct. 15.
Columbia leaders have already reached out to Hill on what they can do to help the community heal, and he pointed to Unite Williamson as a model they could use.
“God has brought us together for a time such as this so that we have a place whenever something happens in Williamson County or in the city of Franklin … in time of need,” Hill said.
The event also featured the Unite Williamson Choir. One of the songs the performed, “I Choose Love,” was written about the church shooting tragedy.
The event’s keynote speaker was Franklin Police Chief Deborah Faulkner. Although Faulkner may not be a faith leader, she said police officers strive to bring unity to the community.
“Police officers must treat people fairly and respectfully because we’re more than a thin, blue line that separates good and evil. We’re the thread that is woven throughout our community that we serve,” Faulkner said.
“As a police chief, I’m mindful of selecting and training officers, young men and women, who value what unites us: faith, hope, compassion, safety and security for everyone to live in comfort to raise their children.”
Faulkner is a strong believer in her faith and shared a recent story that exemplified unity.
An unnamed Franklin police sergeant working the night shift was finishing up his 10-hour day that usually ends at midnight, but left work a little later then normal to finish up other work duties. The sergeant was headed back home to Donelson and decided to take a different and longer way home that night.
As the sergeant approached Concord Road, he saw a young woman with one leg thrown over the railing on a nearby bridge. The sergeant got out of his car, calmly approached the woman and engaged with her in conversation for some time.
Faulkner shared the woman’s response to the officer.
“I will say to you that I prayed God would come and send someone to me. I intended to end my life and jump over this bridge. No one came until you stopped,” she said.
After Brentwood Police and medical personnel arrived, since it was within city limits of Brentwood, the woman asked the sergeant to accompany her all the way to the hospital. He stayed with her until 3:30 a.m.
“I truly believe that this is what unites us in Williamson County. A caring spirit, a shared compassion that calls all of us to give of ourselves for the good of others,” Faulkner said.
“I don’t think that was a coincidence. I think it was meant to be. I think it was divine intervention.”
Moore had tears after the event was over and was looking forward to doing it again next year.
“I think we witnessed today the power of people coming together and just sharing their thoughts in such a way that embraces everybody in the community rather than comments that divide the community,” Moore said.
“This is a groundbreaker for the community. I believe it is.”