New York pastor begins 780-mile prayer walk

Aug 10, 2016 by

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On Aug. 7, Pastor Al Taylor of Infinity Mennonite Church in Harlem, N.Y., headed west, on foot, toward Paterson, N.J. — a 20-mile trek from his starting point in Manhattan but just the first leg of a 34-day prayer walk from New York City to Chicago.

Al Taylor

Taylor

Taylor’s project, “It’s a Love Thing,” will span seven states and 780 miles, aiming to offer a message of hope and unity and to catalyze change in troubled times.

“This is a walk about what can happen,” Taylor said. Amid differences and in the face of violence and unrest, he insists, “we can walk arm in arm.”

Taylor hopes to carry — and to encounter — God’s spirit of love across hundreds of miles.

With a budget of less than $1,000, no hotel reservations and no support car, Taylor started his pilgrimage with a lot of boxes unchecked.

“Sometimes I think this thing is looking raggedy,” he admitted. “But a big part of this is trusting God.”

Taylor has been pastor of Infinity Mennonite since 2008, when, hoping to plant a church in Harlem, he was instead invited to lead this Mennonite congregation in the neighborhood. Having no previous connections with Mennonites, he was uncertain about the fit.

“I felt I wasn’t right for it,” he said. “I told them I wanted to be out on the streets ministering to people. I told them I wanted to get the drug dealers inside the church. I left the interview thinking, ‘There’s no way they want me.’ ”

But Taylor was surprised to find that the congregation encouraged his passions for sharing the gospel in Harlem.

“I’m an evangelist by nature,” he said, emphasizing that affiliating with Infinity Mennonite has stretched him and deepened his Christian walk profoundly. “One of the greatest things that has happened to me in my life has been to identify with the Anabaptist movement.”

Men who walk and pray

Taylor had become convinced of the power of prayer and the transformative ministry of walking two years before joining the Harlem congregation. Across the river in the Bronx, along with other area ministers, Taylor helped initiate an early morning men’s prayer group that soon blossomed into a walking ministry in and around the Bronx River Housing Projects.

Participants gather for a Man Up In Harlem prayer gathering. — Mennonite Church USA

Participants gather for a Man Up In Harlem prayer gathering. — Mennonite Church USA

“I thought a 5:30 a.m. prayer group would never work, but it became such a phenomenon,” he said. “We got all kinds of guys. Guys who go to church, guys who don’t, guys who just got out of jail.”

In 2008, troubled by a series of murders in the Polo Grounds housing projects, Taylor took the walking ministry model home to Harlem. Known as Man Up In Harlem, “a ministry by and for men,” the weekly prayer walks have expanded to 11 locations.

“God is transforming these communities,” Taylor said. “Violence and crime have been reduced, not because we’re telling people to put down their guns but by the power of prayer. We’ve seen the transformation happening, and those housing projects are much better places to live.”

Local law enforcement also took notice, as murder rates in the Polo Grounds plummeted — to zero — after Man Up began prayer walks. Taylor says the ministry is now given special license to assemble in the streets, for example, to host vigils and mourning services after deaths in nearby communities.

Taylor believes the walking ministry is a source of hope, even as it “holds our own community accountable” for black-on-black crime. That, in turn, has helped to hold law enforcement accountable and to slowly change strained relations between the community and the New York Police Department.

‘People laughed at us’

Taylor hopes “It’s a Love Thing” will inspire people to confront violence in their neighborhoods, from hate crimes or drug violence to domestic violence and cyber bullying.

“Violence in any community is unacceptable,” he said.

He also knows, in the face of so much violence and political and racial polarization, that a prayer walk may seem inadequate.

“When we started Man Up In Harlem, people laughed at us and said it wasn’t going to work,” he said. But Taylor is encouraged by the success of Man Up, and God has been tugging on his heart.

The power of a prayer walk, he maintains, is that it invites the transformative power of God.

Taylor’s daily itinerary is online at itsalovethingprayerwalk.com. Each day will start with prayer from 6 to 7 a.m. and end with prayer at 7 p.m. He plans to walk 20 to 25 miles a day. He crossed a bridge into Pennsylvania at sunset on Aug. 9.

He has stops planned in four cities in New Jersey, 14 in Pennsylvania, nine in Ohio, two in Michigan and six in Indiana before he arrives in Chicago on Sept. 9. His itinerary includes major cities like Cleveland and Detroit; smaller urban communities like Elkhart, Ind.; and rural hamlets like Millheim, Pa.

“I hope people will come out and walk with me where they can,” he said. “I want to pray for, be prayed for, laugh with, cry with, break bread with.”

Taylor believes he can witness to the power of God to transform lives and communities. He wants to leave people with a sense of the possibility of solidarity and healing.

“We are collectively better than what we see on the evening news,” he said. “I don’t think there really is this great divide.”

Taylor plans to post on Twitter (@alovething247), Instagram (alovething247) and Facebook (itsalovethingalways). Donations to “It’s a Love Thing” can be made at itsalovethingprayerwalk.com.


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