Phenix City holds prayer event after death of Smiths Station Mayor Bubba Copeland
Area pastors lead by Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe, center, hold hands as they pray at a community prayer event held after the death of Smith Station mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland, Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023 in Phenix City, Ala. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)
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PHENIX CITY – Residents gathered for a community prayer event Tuesday in the aftermath of the death of Smiths Station Mayor F.L. “Bubba” Copeland.
Pastors from different faith communities led more than 100 people who attended the event in different prayers that focused on different themes organizers felt people needed to hear as they dealt with loss of a respected member of the public.
“When things happen, it gives us an opportunity to show true compassion and love to help people get through that,” said Eddie Lowe, mayor of Phenix City. “What better way to do it than to have people come out and pray for the community.”
Speakers never invoked Copeland’s name, but it was clear he was the person they would honor. Copeland, a Baptist pastor, died by suicide on Friday, two days after the conservative website 1819 News published photos of Copeland wearing women’s clothes.
The event centered on different prayers that focused on Smiths Station, the city he helped lead, as well as First Baptist Church, where he was a pastor. From there, the themes focused on different virtues of unity, compassion, love, grace and empathy, that fit the moment.
The crowd’s mind was fixed on Copeland’s memory as they tried to come to grips with the events of the past week.
“I think they are all conflicted,” said Melissa Gauntt, a Smiths Station resident of the community. “I think there are many of us who are appreciative of the empathy and the forgiveness, and I think that is what will make us grow as a community.”
Born in Columbus, Georgia, Copeland lived most of his life in Smiths Station. He was the owner of a market in Salem, Alabama and was a senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Phenix City where he worshipped for more than three decades.
Copeland’s first foray into politics was when he was elected to the Lee County School Board in 2008. He was elected mayor of Smiths Station in 2016, an office he held until his death. He became well-known for responding to the deadly tornadoes that struck the area in March 2019.
“He was a very good man, a very good man,” said Arthur Day Jr., council member for Phenix City of Copeland. “I got to know him personally. I got to visit his office, and we had coffee out there in Smiths Station. We had one on one meetings with Mayor Copeland. He is a great person to work with, a great person to be around.”
The event began with two prayers dedicated to the city where he was mayor and was led by Pastor Lynn McManious of Beaver Creek Baptist Church. That was followed by Pastor Raymond Cochran of Franchise Baptist Church.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will, I here, from heaven, will forgive their sin and heal their land,” McManious said.
The scene then pivoted with prayers centering on unity and compassion.
“Gracious father, we humbly bow before you this evening, thanking you for the God that you are,” Pastor Annie Lewis of We Can Ministry said. “Thanking you that you are a kind God, a loving God, a compassionate God.”
Then there were prayers for love, grace and empathy.
“Father, in the name of Jesus we come to you,” Pastor Theodis Jordan of Rhema Word Church said. “Father, I just thank you for being my God.”
Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson offered the closing remarks.
“I tell you, I don’t understand how people can treat each other with malice in their heart,” he said. “I don’t understand how you can have a neighbor and be so unneighborly. I don’t understand how we think, somehow, we have been put here to judge others. And yet, we take great offense when they judge us.”
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