GRAYSON, Ky. (KT) – Pastors Josh Schmidt and Cory Jones found themselves in a sea of brokenness Sunday afternoon.
Protesters had come practically to the doorstep of First Baptist Church in Grayson, where Schmidt is the lead pastor and Jones is the youth pastor. Armed with hundreds of cold bottles of water, their Bibles and lots of prayer, they stepped out into a Black Lives Matter protest taking place in the heart of downtown. They were met not only by protesters but those protesting the protesters in an unusually unnerving day in small-town USA.
“From my perspective, almost everyone I talked to was not from Grayson,” Schmidt said. ”There was a lot of tactically geared up dudes holding long rifles. Everybody with a gun and a chip on their shoulder showed up.”
People from surrounding counties and states came to the little town in northeastern Kentucky once word came out about the protest. One onlooker said there were a lot of cars with West Virginia and Ohio license plates but the “hometown crowd was well represented, too,” he said.
Schmidt and Jones handed out hundreds of bottles of water, fed law enforcement and prayed for them before everything got started. They also witnessed to several others in the crowd that leaned to the rowdy side. “We did our best to pray with people,” the pastor said. “There was a lot of brokenness on both sides. We were trying to navigate it.”
FBC Grayson had morning services although roadblocks had already been set up going almost to the church office, Schmidt said. Between the coronavirus spike and word of the protest, the crowd was predictably smaller Sunday morning. The church made the decision to cancel the evening worship service because the protest would be ongoing until after 6 p.m.
As they left after the morning service, they saw an unsettling sight: law enforcement officers on rooftops with assault rifles. “That was kind of tough to see,” Schmidt said. “We had a long time of prayer this morning.”
City, county and state enforcement was there to make sure everything stayed peaceful. There were some shouts between groups, but no injuries were reported. About 30 BLM protesters were able to march through town with law enforcement behind them. They endured plenty of taunting and jeers and dished out some of that, too. Confederate flags were part of the scenery in the streets.
“I would say it went about as good as something like that could go,” Jones said. “I’ve never seen that many guns in my life. There was a lot of language used and it was not PG at all. That’s what’s kind of sad about this. There is some communication needed to solve this but it’s not going to happen this way.”
Jones said the protest was supposed to start around 2 p.m. but the BLM group hadn’t arrived yet. They passed out water to others who were in the streets waiting. When the BLM group came, they went to them and offered cold water. They learned they were from all over the United States, including Virginia, Mississippi and Georgia
“People started looking at us like whose side are you on?” Jones said. “We believe God is sovereign and there was a reason why that happened right in front of the church today. If the church doesn’t have an answer to this problem, who is going to?”
Schmidt said FBC Grayson decided to be a presence at the protest because “this is an opportunity we’re not going to have for a long time. There is brokenness all around us and there is not one person in Grayson today that Jesus doesn’t love or didn’t die for.”
The protest was organized by a student at Kentucky Christian University who had transferred from a school in Cincinnati. Another march has been tentatively scheduled for next Sunday, according to the Carter County Post digital newspaper.
“We were there all day,” Schmidt said. “I told him, if we ever write a book, this will be in the top two or three chapters. It has been an adventure.”