Worshipers release 12 balloons signifying those killed or injured when a AME Zion Church van crashed June 17 near Winston-Salem. Photo: Ken Koontz

Four AME Zion churches held a joint prayer vigil Sunday for 12 people injured or killed last week when a church van crashed near Winston-Salem.

The 15-passenger van, owned by Cathey Memorial AME Zion Church, was headed home to Charlotte from an AME Zion conference when it blew out a tire on Interstate 40. The vehicle flipped onto its side in the highway median. An elderly woman was killed; 11 others were injured.

All of the injured passengers were members of the four Charlotte churches — Cathey Memorial, East Stonewall, Greater Gethsemane and Clinton Chapel. The lone fatality was identified as 76-year-old Nola Miller Murphy, a member of East Stonewall, which hosted the 5 p.m. prayer vigil.

An estimated 100 people attended the hour-long service, which featured prayers, songs and special spiritual assurance from AME Zion Senior Bishop George Battle.

Battle told the worshippers that Cathey Memorial had nothing to do with the accident, emphasizing that “it was God’s work.”

In a prayer of thanksgiving, the Rev. Nate Edwards, pastor of Cathey Memorial, thanked God “…for the lives of all persons involved in the van accident.”

The Rev. Ralph Williamson of Clinton Chapel offered a prayer of forgiveness, which he described as the highest form of love. He noted that hearts were heavy, bitter, frustrated and deeply hurt.


The congregation joined ministers in a special altar call for  healing and saving faith to close out the sanctuary service.

“Your compassion never fails, and your mercies are new every morning,” said the Rev. David Williams of Greater Gethsemane, who offered the prayer.

Outside the church, worshipers released 12 balloons — 11 white balloons signifying those injured and one pink balloon in memory Murphy, whose funeral service was held the day before at East Stonewall, her home church.

At least two of the surviving van passengers attended the prayer vigil and were acknowledged for their presence.