Congregation members get together for a prayer circle at St. John Baptist Church on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Tina Sesay hasn't been able to sleep well since a curfew was imposed on Baltimore City.

"This has impacted me tremendously," she told the members of her congregation at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia's village of Long Reach on Wednesday evening.


It was the day after the start of the curfew, which was mandated following a night of unrest in Baltimore on Monday and requires city residents to stay indoors from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Sesay, who manages the nursing staff at an assisted living facility in Baltimore, worries that her employees might run into trouble on their way home from work late at night or as they travel to the office early in the morning.

"I know that they truly, truly care about the residents that we take care of," Sesay said. "I need us to pray for them because their neighborhoods are affected."

Sesay's was not the only call for prayer at the church's "power hour" April 29. At St. John Baptist and several other churches across Columbia, congregations turned to prayer and discussion to sort through emotions about the death of Freddie Gray, a young, black Baltimore man whose spinal cord was broken while in police custody, and the aftermath, which has seen multiple peaceful protests as well as rioting in the city.

"We decided that we needed to do something, and the first thing as a church we want to do is to pray," said the Rev. Ostein Truitt, assistant pastor at St. John Baptist Church. "We want to get together; we don't want to be an insulated church. It's not all about staying inside – it's about what God wants us to do out in the community to make a difference."

Wednesday night, members of the church shared reactions to the events unfolding in Baltimore.

"I think that it's a troubled time," said Anselm Beach, of Columbia. "My heart bleeds because I try to do my best and I try to raise my kids right, and I look at the injustices and I said, for some reason, that could be my son."

"I've been in this country all of my life," said Alan Murrell, 71. "It's a shame that the world is still like it is. It's a shame when a black man comes out of his house, drives down the street and sees the police, he's afraid."

"When violence bubbles up to the surface, [young people] don't know how to respond," said Donna Givens, who works as a school counselor for Baltimore City Public Schools. "What hurts them the most is when they think people who have left the neighborhood don't care about them."

Givens and others said they thought mentoring programs were key in helping guide and inspire the next generation.

At Bridgeway Community Church, located two miles away off Route 108, congregation members broke off into five different groups at a prayer session Tuesday night. Each group focused on a community entity: protesters, police, pastors, politicians and the private sector.

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman attended Bridgeway's meeting and was invited to the stage as the church prayed for politicians.

Kittleman said he felt "it was important to join up with other folks in Howard County to pray for everyone in this city, for all the folks there.

"I consider Baltimore an extension of my home," Kittleman, who lives in West Friendship and grew up in Columbia, said. "We are one region, and we are all in this together, and it's important for Baltimore City to know the other jurisdictions are supporting them, and when they're hurting, we're hurting."


At the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia in the village of Owen Brown, church members formed small discussion groups to reflect on the situation in Baltimore and ways they could help.

Their conversations delved deep into history, racism and economic inequality.

"This is happening in Baltimore now," said UUCC member John Harris, of Columbia, "but what happened was building up. Until it gets in your face, people aren't willing to do anything."

Steps forward include equipping police officers with body cameras and fostering a better relationship between police and the community, UUCC members said. They also stressed supporting Baltimore grassroots organizations doing work in the city, such as the Baltimore United for Change Coalition.

The church itself is active in matters of justice: the congregation coordinated a Black Lives Matter vigil with St. John Baptist Church in December, and members will participate in the Million Moms March, a rally organized by mothers whose children were killed by police or vigilantes, on May 9 in Washington.

Though Baltimore is miles away, many church members said Howard County has the same issues to confront.

"Racism is a problem that affects all of us, and what has happened recently in Baltimore is drawing attention to it, but it is a problem everywhere," said Kerridwen Henry, a UUCC member.

"This isn't something that's unique to a specific region, but the injustices that are taking place are taking place across the nation," said Janelle Bruce Smith, the youth pastor at St. John Baptist Church. "So this is everybody's issue, and as a faith community, we should have a part in ensuring that we're doing our part."