One by one, members of different faiths and beliefs stepped forward Tuesday night to light candles in remembrance of loved ones they had lost.
In the procession of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, Northland Church Pastor Joel Hunter and his wife Becky lit a candle for their son, Isaac Hunter.
In the end, some 70 candles flickered in a small sanctuary of the St. James Catholic Cathedral in downtown Orlando during the hour-long Interfaith Prayer Service for Peace.
"Many of us faced losses this past year or unresolved losses," said Rev. Bryan Fulwider, a Congregational minister. "We are strengthened, we are healed, by standing together, walking together, being together."
Leaders of the major religions as well as representatives of the Sikh, Unitarian and Baha'i faiths, also said prayers.
The service was both an act of empathy for all who lost friends and relatives and a public show of support for Hunter, whose son died by suicide in December.
"This is a service designed to bring comfort to all that have had losses, but it's also a collective embrace of him and his family for their loss of Isaac," said Pastor James Coffin, executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.
Coffin said the idea of focusing on personal peace following a private tragedy came from Orlando Catholic Diocese Bishop John Noonan, who started the annual interfaith prayer service about three years ago.
Hunter is widely respected within the faith community for his commitment to building relationships with leaders of different religions.
One of his longest friendships is with Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.
"He is an evangelical leader who got a lot of flak for going out and meeting with Muslims and other communities," said Musri, who sat beside Hunter.
"The least we can do is be with him and lift up his spirit."
That willingness to join in with other religions might have cost Hunter friends among evangelicals, but his commitment to interfaith cooperation is the natural extension of his Christian faith, said Fulwider, president of Building US, a nonprofit diversity consulting and training organization.
"He has become a friend to those in other faith communities because this is who Jesus calls him to be," Fulwider said.
"He is not a person who cuts off relations because you have a difference of understanding or belief or thoughts. To me that is the heart of the Christian gospel."
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