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Dyana Bagby Posted by on August 21, 2017.

Religious sidewalk singer draws Sandy Springs criticism

A woman who sings loudly in front of Congregation Beth Tefillah on High Point Road on Saturday mornings is disturbing congregants and neighbors. But she says she is trying to heal what she said is a “rift” between Christians and Jews.

Maverine Henry – who goes by “Mercy” — sings from the sidewalk, but ran into trouble in March, when Sandy Springs Police charged her with disorderly conduct and trespassing for allegedly standing in a nearby yard.

Maverine “Mercy” Henry sings outside Congregation Beth Tefillah on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 12, while daughter Grace reads. (Dyana Bagby)

Henry said in an email that her songs are “prayer set to music in a language the Creator understands. I consider the fact that the prayer songs are not understood a good thing because it allows for discretion even though it is being done in public.”

“It’s not singing. It’s wailing,” said Carolyn Massicott, who owns the home at High Point Road and Forest Hills Drive, across the street from the synagogue, where Henry was arrested. “It’s invasive every Saturday morning.”

The songs have no words and are essentially high-pitched vocalizations. Massicott said the noise disturbs her family and her neighbors every weekend.

“I understand the premise of protest, but at the same time she is making our weekend unpleasant – she is infringing on my right to have a pleasant weekend.”

A rabbi at Congregation Beth Tefilla, an Orthodox synagogue, told police while she has the right to protest, she was not welcome on their property.

The rabbi also told police his religion does not recognize women singing and that Henry’s doing so was “very offensive” as people and families had to walk past her to enter the synagogue, according to a police report.

The synagogue declined to comment for this story.

“The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives anyone the right to peaceful assembly,” said Sandy Springs Police spokesperson Sgt. Samuel Worsham. “The issue [in March] was that Ms. Henry trespassed on private property. She was asked to move to the public right of way and she refused. She is allowed to be on public property, [such as] the sidewalk, as long as there is no interference with passage by pedestrians.”

Henry is fighting the Sandy Springs charges. Court records show she faces similar charges in Gwinnett County.

Henry has recently been joined on the sidewalk by her daughter Grace, 25, who sits next to her mother and reads.

Mercy Henry and her daughter Grace on the sidewalk with a sign explaining her reasons for singing. (Dyana Bagby)

“I think everyone has their right for expression, but I’m not sure what the purpose is,” Heather O’Connor said on a recent Saturday morning as she walked past Henry.

O’Connor said she is disturbed to see those attending the synagogue for Saturday services, including many children and toddlers, being forced to walk past her.

“Those children have the right to go to their place of worship without interference,” she said.

Henry does not speak while she is singing and instead plants cardboard signs next to her for people to read that explains what they hear are “petitions in song to our mercifully compassionate Creator for an end to all suffering.”

Henry, who said she plans to soon legally change her name to Mercy, declined an in-person interview, but agreed to answer questions via email.

“The word-by-word content of these prayers and the melody the prayers are set to is hidden from even me. When I stand in front of a place, in an act of faith, I open my mouth, exhale and songs flow out,” she stated.

Henry said she lives near Riverdale in Clayton County and does not belong to any church or congregation.

“I did grow up in church, but in researching Judaism I realized I was raised to pray like a Jew and my mom is of Jewish descent,” she stated.

She said she does “prayer songs” in front of two churches and two synagogues in metro Atlanta on weekends. She said that since 2007 she has sung in front of churches and synagogues in four states.

In March, a young man with a guitar tried to out-play Mercy Henry from her High Point Road spot, but eventually gave up. (Kathleen Womack)

“My part in earth’s unfolding story is to be the drop that starts the ripple effect for the regeneration and restoration of all creation. Key to this process is ending a 2,000-year-old rift between Jews and Christians,” Henry stated.

“Jews and Christians both know the power of prayer to affect change, so for me it is a matter of showing up and playing my part until the job is done,” she stated.

Henry said she believes her prayer songs will lead to a “surprise ending for Jews and Christians.”

“But it is such a better ending — a good ending for all mankind — not just the ones who got ‘chosen’ because they happened to be ‘in the right place at the right time,’ ”Henry stated. “All of humanity (and creation) has suffered because of the mistake of the first couple. All of humanity deserve life in a world that is free from the darkness their mistake allowed in.”

Henry added, “I did not start this family war between Jews and Christians, but I will sure end it because it stands between us and paradise. This is my present mission within my mission.”