Alex Louderback carried a wooden cross as he and about 50 other members and clergy from Fallston-area churches braved the late-summer heat and traffic during the third annual Walk to Bless Our Schools along Route 152 Thursday morning.
The group, led by local pastors and escorted by a Maryland State Police trooper, walked about two miles south along the shoulder of the highway from Youth's Benefit Elementary School to Fallston Middle and Fallston High schools.
The walkers gathered in front of each school and prayed for the students, the teachers, the staff, administrators and coaches. The 2016-2017 school year for Harford County Public Schools students starts next Thursday, Aug. 25.
"This is the future of our world, and our world is so divided right now," Father Jerry Francik, pastor of St. Mark Catholic Church, said of the students. "We want to bring unity and peace and love and beauty, so that's what we ask."
Alex, 17, who is going into his senior year at Fallston High School, said the experience of his first prayer walk was "wonderful." He enjoyed getting out of the house and meeting up with his friends.
The weather was sunny, with temperatures in the 80s. The group included children, many who attend the schools along the route, their parents and some senior citizens who are members of the various churches.
"It's nice to get out and see people you haven't seen all summer and just bless the schools and share your love for God," said Alex, who is a member of Fallston United Methodist Church.
The group also included people from Fallston Presbyterian Church, Holy Communion Lutheran Church and St. Mark's.
Kimberly Secrist-Ashby, the pastor at Fallston Presbyterian, walked with her two daughters, who attend Hickory Elementary School and Bel Air Middle School.
"I tell them, 'As we pray for the other schools, we pray for theirs too,'" Secrist-Ashby said.
She stressed her church, which draws people from different parts of Harford County, is a strong part of the Fallston community.
"We like to participate [in the walk] because this is our community, these are our schools and we want the community to know that we care and we hold them in prayer throughout the year," she said.
Some walkers met at Youth's Benefit, where workers are putting the finishing touches the first phase of $37.1 million replacement building. Students in grades K-2 will be housed in the new building this year, while construction continues on the second phase for grades 3-5 that is due to be completed by the start of the 2017-18 school year next August. The third, fourth and fifth graders will stay in their existing building this year. The old primary building was demolished in July.
From Youth's Benefit, the group linked up with more walkers at the Fallston Recreation Complex, a short distance south from the elementary school.
"We especially want to be there this year, since they have a brand new building they have been blessed with," Francik, pastor of St. Mark, said of Youth's Benefit.
The walkers held wooden crosses of varying sizes that had been provided by the participating churches.
The group stopped for a water break at Fallston United Methodist, which is along the route.
They then moved out toward the combined Fallston Middle and Fallston High campus at Route 152 and Carrs Mill Road.
Drivers heading north honked and waved at the walkers on the shoulder.
Mary Alice McClintock, of Fallston, has participated in the prayer walk all three years.
"The police escort is very comforting, and we're very grateful for their support," she said.
McClintock, a Methodist church member, had to ride in a vehicle last year as she was recovering from a brain tumor.
She was determined to walk Thursday, however. Aided by a cane, she was accompanied by her grandchildren.
"This is a very easy walk, a very slow pace," she said.
McClintock has five grandchildren who attend Youth's Benefit, and her daughter teaches at Fallston Middle. The walk is an opportunity for her to connect with people from other churches who also have children in the Fallston schools.
"Talking with other parents and grandparents is always important," she said.
Secrist-Ashby encouraged her fellow walkers to "please go be a blessing to someone else today" as the walk wrapped up.