Keir Young, Rev. Phyllis Pickett , Rev. Kat Banakis, Darlissa Himrod and Pastor Rosland Shorter-Henderson praying outside ETHS Monday morning.

They called themselves the “Five Women of God.”

And while the title, invented by one of the clergywomen on the spot, was met with a smile, their purpose, praying in a semi-circle in front of Evanston Township High School on the first day of classes, was extremely serious.

“We believe that if we come and pray, that God will help give us peace in the school,” said Pastor Rosalind Shorter-Henderson, of Evanston’s Bethel A.M.E. Church.

The event was organized by two groups, Pray4Peace Evanston, and Positive Presence. Clergy from all Evanston religious institutions were invited.

Pray4Peace organizer Tina Penick said her seven-year-old organization has held vigils in other places before, such as outside of hospitals at the peak of the COVID pandemic, but this was their first time to “surround the school” with prayer.

The number of tragic school shootings around the nation, along with last year’s ETHS incident where two loaded guns were discovered, led the ministers to gather in several small groups on the public sidewalk perimeter surrounding the school.

The students “understand they need something more than they have now,” said The Rev. Phyllis Pickett, also of Bethel A.M.E., something, she noted, like the power of God.

And Associate Pastor Chris Herning, of the Vineyard Church, said “students see there are people in the community rooting for them and supporting them.”

In fact, the word community came up rather often.

“It’s important that we start to uplift our community,” said Pickett. And the Rev. Kat Barnakis, of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, added that the “religious community has a responsibility” to both lead and serve as an example in that uplifting.

Penick, of Pray4Peace, also happens to be an ETHS employee, although the connection with the vigil was just a coincidence.

Penick said she was involved in the prayer session “because I’m born and raised in Evanston and I love my community.”

The same groups will be out in front of District 65 elementary and middle schools, offering the same prayers when that district opens on August 24.

Shorter-Henderson put it this way: “We want to glorify God, horrify the devil, and edify the people.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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