WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - St. Luke Church in Wilmington was a little more crowded for Sunday morning service.
The church hosted the Wilmington Police Department and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Department for the first Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.
Wesley United Methodist Church teamed up with St. Luke to start the event honoring local law enforcement, and establishing relationships with the community.
"In light of what has been happening recently when it comes to policing in our community the sound bites that we get on television and on YouTube, it's kind of showing a bad light of our police officers of our law enforcement and also a bad light of our community. So, we thought this event would do something number one redefine policing and the purpose of policing, but also redefine the perception of the community," St. Luke Pastor Jermaine Armour said.
Officers from across the county attended with their families, worshiping and speaking with community members.
"We need the community and we need our preachers. Just seeing this pastor being a visionary to get us together in the same room and talk to each other we're a part of the community and for us to come in and for the community to see us and to see our families and then for them to honor us it's just an amazing thing," New Hanover county Sheriff Ed McMahon said.
Creating an open dialogue between law enforcement and the community was the message Sunday.
"It's so necessary because we have to build relationships because when something happens, and it will, and when it happens we all have to understand we all will make mistakes. We'll do things that people may not like, and we'll do things that are necessary that we have to do and to know that we are all building those relationships together now it's just an amazing thing," McMahon said.
"As a whole, as Americans, black, white, Hispanics, Asians, we all need to show more love to each other and not worry about what someone else looks like talks like. Just love people and that is one of the things with this gathering today was to bring people together," St. Luke Church member Sheila Harvey said.
According to Armour, Wilmington needs everyone to work together to start working on the city's problems. And he said there is no better place to start that conversation than in a church.
"When you think about faith, you think about hope. I believe our community is in despair, not because we don't have jobs. You can find jobs. It may be kind of tough. Not because of housing. We can find housing and there's always services to help with whatever a person needs, but I believe our community has lost hope, and whenever you take hope out of the community, you have nothing to strive for, so having it in a place of faith having people of faith initiatives come together is just saying there is hope," Armour said.
Operation Gratitude, a national group that sends care packages to all who serve, also helped with the event. The group made 600 care packages full of snacks, hand sanitizer and other necessities for law enforcement and handed them out Sunday.
According to Operation Gratitude's recipient outreach manager who attended the event, it's always great to see a project come full circle, and to see the care packages make a difference.
"It boosts morale, and it is just great to see somebody back home is thinking about you. First-responder wise, it's great to know someone in their community is thinking about them and wanted to say thank you. And so it's a big thank you and it's a big morale booster for everyone," Giovanni Perez said.
The event also honored four law enforcement officers, and gave them awards for their work.
Detention Officer Karen T. Lee was awarded the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Detention Officer of the Year. Master Deputy Adam Bondarek was awarded the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Deputy of the Year. Detective Carlos Lamberty and Officer Timothy Moon were also honored.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County District Attorney Ben David were also in attendance.
According to Armour, the dialogue the community and law enforcement going will continue after Sunday.
"There is hope in our community to get better. There's hope in our policing. All of our police are not bad all of our law enforcement are not bad, so just bringing the hope back will then begin to spark some energy and I think from there the sky is the limit," he said.