Some 430 people turned out Saturday morning for the second annual Unite Williamson prayer breakfast at the Eastern Flank Battlefield Park in Franklin, featuring several faith leaders from the area speaking to the event’s theme, “Rooted in Love.”

Attendees enjoyed a breakfast provided by Puckett’s Restaurant, then settled in to hear speakers representing the Christian, Jewish and Islamic religions. The program also included music from the Unite Williamson Choir.

“The purpose of Unite Williamson is to make friends of your neighbors and also to understand your neighbors,” Franklin Mayor Ken Moore said in his welcoming remarks.

Moore had co-founded Unite Williamson with The Rev. Kenneth Hill of Shorter Chapel AME Church. The two became friends in the wake of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015, when nine members of the church died. 

Out of that friendship came the nonprofit Unite Williamson, and this year’s keynote speaker was the current pastor of the Emanuel AME Church, the Rev. Eric Manning. He told of how members of the congregation — some of those who lost loved ones in the shooting — began forgiving the shooter.

“One after one, family members started to forgive,” Manning said to Saturday morning’s audience. “But then there were a few who said they are not there yet. I want to make sure I share with you this morning that forgiveness is an individual journey. I can’t make anybody forgive anyone that may have hurt, harmed or done something unthinkable. You have to walk that path by yourself. Forgiveness is not a sprint but a marathon. It becomes a way of thinking, it becomes a way of life."

"To forgive our neighbor may sometimes be easier said than done. We forgive by understanding what someone had to go through, we forgive by understanding their struggle, we forgive by understanding that we are not in this by ourselves.”

Here are excerpts from the other speakers: 

Bishop Todd Callister, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 

“Can we perceive the needs in others? I certainly cannot if all I am thinking about are my priorities, but I can if I replace that focus and think of how I can help them and wonder what they’re going through. And to perceive, often we have to get closer, we have to get to know names, look in their faces; we have to see over time so we can perceive changes in people’s lives, struggles and challenges.”

 Pastor Luis Sura, Franklin Community Church

“How can we become friends if we are not in God’s love? I cannot love God and not love my friends. If we are friends with God, that means we are all friends. Brothers and sisters, let’s be friends rooted in the love of God. My prayer is this: Lord, I pray that you open our eyes and see others the way that you see them, let us love others the way that you love them.”

Rabbi Laurie Rice, Congregation Micah

"Relationships move at the speed of trust. We are each other’s business, which means not giving up on each other or casting each other aside. It means going deeper and remembering that if anyone has a problem, we all have a problem."

 Tom Moore, Saint Phillip Catholic Church

“Our combined traditions are unified from the love of God and the love of your fellow man. We have shown unity in the past, and we need to take action to maintain and strengthen that unity before there is a disaster."

“Here in Williamson County, I have seen huge displays of love and of unity and following the principles of ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ Recall the flood of 2010. What a wonderful situation it was when an army of people mobilized to help those who had been flooded out."

 Imam Ahmedulhadi Sharif, Islamic Center of Williamson County

“The religion of Islam is a religion that celebrates all fellow human beings, a religion that teaches to love and show compassion to one another. Starting from the principle that all human beings are honored by God, that all human beings, no matter their faith or their color, are all honored by the same God."

“The religion that I believe and practice celebrates the entire humanity as one coming from the same father, Adam.”

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