Olivia Brown has never met Kasey Burrell, but she prays for him by name every day.
Burrell was one of five Ogden police officers injured in a raid on a suspected drug house in 2012. A sixth officer, Jared Francom, was killed. Burrell was shot in the head and stomach but recovered enough to continue working at the Ogden Police Department.
But Burrell is not the only Ogden police officer being prayed for by a relative stranger on a daily basis. Last December, the Washington Heights Church, a non-denominational congregation in Weber County, made replica metal police badges with the name of each Ogden police officer engraven on a silver shield. The church invited its members to select a badge and invoke blessings of safety and well-being upon each officer and his or her family every day in 2017. Brown picked Burrell's name and keeps the badge in her purse.
On the eve of Thursday's National Prayer Day, it's safe to say the Washington Heights Church prayer initiative has created a special bond between members and city law enforcement.
"I have an increased appreciation for the officers because it is such a dangerous, unpredictable job. I have learned the stress it puts on a family and the sacrifices they are required," Brown said. "I think prayer for these officers has strengthened our church's congregation — we are all praying for a common purpose."
The idea to pray for the officers was part a larger plan realized last December before Christmas. The Washington Heights Church presented a check for $10,700 to the Ogden Police Department for new body armor and Army-style tourniquets kits, no strings attached. Pastor Jimi Pitts organized the event.
In addition to the donation, the church passed out customized coins depicting a police officer wearing body armor and a Biblical scripture reference to wearing the armor of God. Each coin came with the last name of one Ogden police officer.
The badges were also passed out at the event, Pitts said.
"It's a constant visual reminder to pray for them each day," Pitts said.
Lt. Will Cragun attend the event and thought it was a wonderful gesture.
"It was moving to be up there," Cragun said. "Their donation was out of the park. But the fact that they were asking their congregation to pray for us and our successes, that we would be safe in our dealings while on duty and in our lives I thought was very moving. I'm very grateful."
Kathryn MacLeod, a South Ogden area church member since 2009, is a next door neighbor of Ogden Police Det. Colette Allred. MacLeod already prays daily for Allred, but with Allred's badge already taken, MacLeod selected the name Sgt. Will Taylor.
"My mother's maiden name is Taylor, so I grabbed it. I was able to meet him and my neighbor introduced me," MacLeod said. "I keep the badge on my desk by my computer and every morning I hold it and say a prayer for his safety and for his family."
Associating with the officers at the church that day humanized them and made the need to pray more real, MacLeod said.
"I think it made it personal for the congregation and people thought, 'Wow, we can really do something,'" she said. "I think everybody is encouraged."
At a time when some citizens across the nation have expressed distrust and anti-police sentiments, the prayers of church members on behalf of law enforcement was especially meaningful for Allred, a 17-year veteran of the Ogden Police force.
"We are not getting a very good rap now, but it was spiritual for me to know these people are thinking about police officers in general and actually praying for us," Allred said. "I get a feeling of being protected. I think its had a lot to do with knowing these people are praying for me."
Those tender feelings extend to the families as well, Tami Brower said.
Brower occasionally attends services at Washington Heights and is the wife of Sgt. Travis Brower of the West Jordan Police Department. After Sgt. Brower's close friend, officer Ron Wood, was killed in line of duty, the Browers have taken widows and children of fallen officers to Washington D.C. to visit the Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. These families appreciate the thoughtful prayers, she said.
Times are also difficult for policemen in general. Speaking from personal experience, the salary and benefits for a police officer are lacking and fewer people are choosing law enforcement as a career, she said.
"Things are getting worse out there. ... They don't make good money, benefits are being cut. Most work two to three jobs," Tami Brower said. "I think the prayers are wonderful and what they are doing at Washington Heights is incredible. The power of prayer helps."
Beyond that is the abrasive nature and desensitization of the job — what the officers see and deal with can "erode the soul," according to Ogden Police Officer Robert Evans.
Evans, of the OPD motor division, routinely prays with his own family, where they maintain a list of names, including criminals, to remember in each supplication, he said.
But saying personal prayers is more difficult for the veteran officer. For this reason, he carries the customized "armor of God" coin on and off duty. A member of the Washington Heights congregation holds his corresponding name and coin, he said.Comment on this story
"It’s good therapy for me to carry the coin. ... Knowing there is a person and congregation praying for us is personally meaningful," Evans said. "A lot of officers are no longer as spiritual as they once were. The coin is a reminder to reconnect and not let the abrasive nature of the world take God away from you. To have them give that to you and to carry it in my pocket means at least there is a prayer in my heart."
Since learning of the Washington Heights Church pray for police initiative, Evans has felt a greater overall sense of protection in his work.
"To know there’s a group who doesn't care what faith you are, and that they are welcoming you in their hearts and prayers ... and there is no doubt they are absolutely sincere ... is huge," Evans said. "I believe their prayers are answered in ways we may not immediately know. The power of prayer is real, and their prayers are very much appreciated."