Pastors and parishioners speak out on the George Zimmerman trial, verdict

Crystal Haynes, the 31-year-old youth coodinator at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford wears a hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin.

"I am hurt. I am sad. I am shocked, but I shouldn't be," preached the Rev. Valarie Houston of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church in Sanford's historic Goldsboro area.

Several times during her impassioned Sunday-morning sermon about George Zimmerman's acquittal, Houston's words brought church members to their feet.

"We are African-Americans. We are people. We are allowed to go the store and buy Arizona Ice Tea and a package of Skittles and go home," she said, recalling Trayvon Martin's trip to a convenience store that ended in his death.

"Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity," Houston said.

Those issues of inequity and injustice were echoed in churches across the region, from their pulpits and pews to their parking lots.

Although the Rev. Lowman Oliver of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford chose to continue with a previously scheduled youth-day service, he briefly expressed his frustration with the not-guilty verdict.

"This is not taking us forward but moving us backward," Oliver said. "I am angry, but I dare not sin. That anger is driving me to do what I can to ensure every mother, brother, sister will not tolerate stalking.

"On the positive side," Oliver said, "the case has brought to everyone's attention racial issues and disparities in our penal system, and has become a catalyst for change."

Crystal Haynes, the 31-year-old youth coordinator at St. Paul Missionary Baptist, expressed her views through her sweat shirt — a gray hoodie featuring Trayvon's image on its front along with the words "Hoodie does not mean I'm a criminal."

Trayvon was wearing a hoodie the night he died. Some believe the garment raised Zimmerman's suspicions.

"I'm heartbroken, honestly," said Haynes, whose son is 4. "A lot say this is not a black-or-white issue, but a wrong-or-right issue. I disagree. He [Zimmerman] didn't get anything. That shows no respect for the deceased."

The Rev. Errol Thompson also wore a hoodie Sunday when he delivered his sermon to more than 100 churchgoers at New Life Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Orlando. "I wore it to honor the fallen young man and his family," he said.

At First Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Sanford, the Rev. Harry D. Rucker was late for his 11 a.m. sermon. He had spent a late night at the Seminole County Sheriff's Office discussing the verdict in the Zimmerman trial with other members of Sanford Pastors Connecting, a nondenominational coalition of black and white religious leaders that formed as a result of the Trayvon incident.

Once he arrived at First Shiloh, Rucker began by asking the congregation to keep both the Martin and Zimmerman families in their prayers. Although he believed in the American justice system, he disagreed with the jury's verdict, he said.

"I was trying to eat when they read the verdict and I dropped my fork," Rucker preached. "For the first time in my life I was speechless."

However, the Rev. Harlan Walker of Word of Faith Ministries in Sanford wasn't so surprised.

"I don't believe that any of those who followed the case and listened to the evidence will be surprised it turned out the way it did," said Walker, adding, "I don't expect any dissension, maybe a flare-up here or there."

Regardless, said First Shiloh churchgoer Alpha Henderson, 59, "Even if the verdict came back guilty, it still wouldn't bring Trayvon Martin back."

Henderson, a father of six from Orlando, said he believed the city of Sanford is healing and credited his pastor with getting the town back on track.

Rucker said changes regarding race relations will come to Sanford.