ALBANY — If the heat and the lower-than-expected turnout of true believers impacted Tarlita McCrary during the first of three planned “hope-raising gatherings” in downtown Albany Saturday morning, she certainly didn’t show it.

McCrary, fellow members of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church and others bent on “restoring hope and faith in our community,” held up signs proclaiming faith in God Saturday morning, the first of three planned gatherings dreamed up by McCrary as an answer to “all that’s going on in our world.”

“I know one of the first things people are going to ask me is if this has anything to do with the Black Lives Matter movement,” the minister said. “We’re not here to get into that today. We are here simply to lift the name of Jesus, to raise hope, faith and encouragement in our community.

“There are people now who are afraid to come through the church doors, but we are here to tell those people that death is sure, that heaven and hell are for real. And they get to choose where they will spend eternity.”

McCrary said she was excited to be participating in the gathering, but she decried the response of some local pastors who were invited to take part in the awareness-raising event.

“We’ve gotten a good response from people in the community, but so many pastors told me they were unsure about being involved in anything that brought people close together,” McCrary said. “Look, we can social distance and do this. Plus, if all we’re going to do is minister to the people who come to church, we miss the point. We need to go out into the world and talk to the people who need God most.”

Charlene Procha was one of the first to take up a position along Slappey Drive early Saturday. She said she came to do God’s bidding.

“I’m here to support God,” she said. “I want to remind the people in our community that God has their back. This is the day of salvation; now is the time to turn to God.”

Lisa Mason said she found the answer to the country’s troubling issues in God.

“I want the people here to know that they can come out and stand up for God,” Mason said. “We came out here today to say to the people of Albany, ‘With all that is going on in our world today, God is still with us.’ That’s where we need to turn our focus.”

McCrary was in her element at the gathering, whether talking with Albany City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher, Albany Police Department Chief Michael Persley or a surprised young passer-by.

“Young man, have you been saved?” she asked, and when the man said he’d come to know Jesus “a while ago,” she said, “Once you are one of God’s children, you will always be one of God’s children. Can I pray with you?”

And she did, leaving the unsuspecting young man with hope for a blessing that he may not have expected when he began his walk along Slappey.

“That’s what I’m here for,” McCrary said. “That’s what this is all about.”

Next Saturday’s gathering will be held at BJ’s Country Buffet on Dawson Road.

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