The ruling came late Saturday, meaning many pastors had to ditch their prepared sermons. They responded in various ways, from delivering their words in hoodies to not mentioning the case at all.
The late morning sermon at 10,000-member Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington was more of a long healing service than an exploration of the nuts and bolts of the case, which saw Zimmerman accused of murdering unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. The altar call, a period during Christian services when some come before the pulpit to reaffirm their faith, went on an unusually long time, with one young black man after another approaching to seek prayer.
Floyd Williamson, minister of Silver Spring Church of Christ, had not planned to preach about the verdict in the pulpit, but he did quote from Mark 12:30 because “most of the congregation had it on their minds.”
“In Mark 12 Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and to love your neighbor as yourself,” Williamson said. “Even though there is injustice, wrong and evil in the world, it can’t deter us from our love for God and our neighbors.”
At Howard University, Nikkeishia Parmely clasped her daughter’s thin shoulders as she chanted, “No justice, no peace.”
Though Sunday evening was warm, Keymiah Parmely, 7, wore a lightweight hoodie — not just a jacket covering her beaded braids, but a now symbol of Martin, the Florida teenager who the Parmelys and hundreds of others had gathered beneath the American flag at the center of Howard University to memorialize.
Nikkeishia Parmely was angry that Zimmerman was found not guilty.
“It hurt me like I was a member of that family,” she said of the moment she heard the verdict.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds beneath the bright white dome of Foundry United Methodist Church in Dupont heard Nelson Mandela’s prison chaplain, a South African bishop who was in town to give a sermon on hospitality. The Foundry congregation is largely white.
“The outcome of the trial in Sanford is a troubling thing, because it’s exposed our addiction to racial division,” said the Rev. Peter Storey. “We will see what the Holy Spirit does with this painful thing, if it can be turned to God’s providence for healing.”
Storey preached about the biblical story of Jesus’s followers speaking in tongues and being laughed at.
“We don’t hear people when we’ve been taught they don’t matter. We won’t hear people who tell us uncomfortable things. Then we have a dialogue of the deaf,” Storey said.
During the church announcements period at All Souls Unitarian in Columbia Heights, the Rev. Cathy Rion Starr, the social justice minister, said many in the congregation were “grieving and full of anger at the injustice of a not guilty verdict.”
During the call to prayer, Starr said the congregation is “connected to Trayvon Martin’s family . . . we are connected to all those who wage violence on others.” She never mentioned Zimmerman’s name.
At Brook Hill United Methodist Church in Yellow Springs, near Frederick, the only mention of the Zimmerman verdict came during the benediction, when the associate pastor, Gary Hicks, prayed that there be peace nationwide in response to the jury’s ruling. Congregants could be overheard responding “amen” to the prayer.
Gillian Brockell, Jonathan Forsythe and Jeannine Hunter contributed to this report.