It's all part of a community project called "Defending the Faith."

125 6 LINKEDIN 3 COMMENTMORE

AKRON -- The handcuffs were real, the sheriff's deputies were real, and the reactions from church goers? Those were real, too, because they had no idea it was all staged.

What most people don't realize is the arrests of their pastors are skits -- part of a community project that several churches in the Akron community have begun called "Defending the Faith."

To raise awareness, they teamed up with the Summit County Sheriff's Office, and set up staged arrests of several area pastors. The congregations had no idea, and now the Sheriff's Office is taking a lot of criticism after the videos went viral.

"You see people crying in the audience," sheriff's Sgt. Samantha Walker said. "They're not believing this is happening to their pastor. Some of the looks the audience was giving us -- I've never been so afraid in church in my life."

Walker was one of the officers making the fake arrest look as real as possible, which is exactly what the Rev. Melford Elliott wanted at Greater Bethel Baptist Church.

"It looked really real, and I was kind of glad," Elliott said.

He's glad it's getting the word out for the community project "Defending the Faith," but now that the Summit County sheriff's office is taking some heat, they're all defending their actions.

"Hindsight's always 20-20," Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry said. "We were proud to be a part of it. I just wish everyone knew it was at their request."

Those requests are still coming in though. Other pastors in the area see this as an effective way to reach the community, and they're not backing down.

"This is an impactful and exciting way to present the ministry," the Rev. David Parker said. "It's thinking out of the box, and that's what we need. So, it's fantastic. It's got everybody talking."

All that talk is why the sheriff and the pastors wanted to set the record straight. There's been a lot of concern from the community, some pastors' wives, and even congregations in other states.

They're already planning other "arrests," but with a few minor adjustments, so people know it's staged. They plan to hand out flyers while it's happening to promote the main theatrical event for "Defending the Faith" set for March 22 at the Akron Civic Theater.

125 6 LINKEDIN 3 COMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: http://on.wkyc.com/1i6DuwN