SEBRING — Emmanuel United Church of Christ hosted a vigil on Thursday night in the wake of the SunTrust bank shooting that took five innocent lives the day before. The vigil started the conversations on healing, coping and moving forward.
Rev. George Miller welcomed everyone and made sure they knew the sanctuary was a place of safety to pray, sing, cry and grieve as each individual needed. Miller began the vigil by reading the Beatitudes from the Bible.
Carnide Thermador played the piano and sang a beautiful rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” The song lyrics rejoice that God is always watching over his children.
Rev. David Aster said faith gives comfort. He went on to read Psalm 23, which seemed to visibly bring comfort to many in attendance.
Rev. Ken Hull sang “Amazing Grace” with passion.
The candle lighting was moderated by Diane Griffith. She read the names of the three shooting victims who were identified at the time. As she read the names, five candles were lighted for the five victims. Those in attendance were asked to speak from the podium and share their thoughts if they wanted to.
Walker Memorial Academy student Ifiok Edemidiong bravely got his acoustic guitar out and headed to the altar. He inspired the keepers of the vigil with a song about God being bigger than their fears.
Miller said he was being obedient to God when he offered to have the vigil at the church.
“I felt it was God calling me to provide a place in this church,” he said. “No matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. Every church has a purpose. This is what God is calling us to do.”
The church held a candlelight vigil and prayer walk after the Pulse night club shooting in June 2016 in Orlando.
After the program Edemidiong, or “Iffy” as his friends at school call him, said the shooting did scare him but he was leaning on his faith to cope.
“Driving to get here made the fear worse,” he said. “It made it more of a reality the closer we got to where it happened.”
His younger brother, Benjamin Edemidiong, also a Walker Memorial Academy student, was traumatized by the shooting too.
“When I first heard about it, I was really scared,” he said. “I was wondering what they were thinking. People need to get their relationships straight with God.”
The matriarch of the small family, Natalyl Edemidiong works at a pharmacy drive through window. The idea of “big town” problems happening in Sebring has her disturbed. She brought her sons to the vigil to seek comfort.
“I am very fearful,” she said. “I have children. What would they do without me? Everything I do is for them. There is so much division around. I hope this forces us together. There is never a void in your heart. If God doesn’t fill it, something will. We need to pray for each other.”
Miller said the vigil is a way for people to support each other and start some real talk to change things.