On the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral—April 27, 2015, when the city of Baltimore erupted in a wave of violence, crime, and arson—the police force did not employ a single chaplain. In the two years since, they’ve grown an ecumenical corps of 134 men and women of the cloth who ride along with officers dispatched to scenes that demand a different sort of care. Cops and priests serve complementary, overlapping missions after all: Both help people at times of utmost need, intervening in life’s liminal moments to “protect and serve.”

In a city known for colonial Catholicism and violent crime, this collaboration makes great sense. And after hearing testimony from the front lines—from Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, pastor Rev. Dr. Sheridan Todd Yeary, and Archbishop of Baltimore William E. Lori—at a panel “Violence, Faith & Policing in Baltimore” on Capitol Hill Wednesday night, I couldn’t shake the thought: Why doesn’t every city, from Chicago to Charlotte, already do this?

Police chaplains, in light blue t-shirts with “Police Chaplain” on the back and “BPD” on the front, joined the throngs of demonstrators at the courthouse and City Hall throughout the trials of police officers indicted for Freddie Gray’s death, the result of spinal injuries sustained while in a police van. Particularly after a case against one of the officers was dismissed or when one of them was acquitted of all charges, as three were in the summer of 2016, Commissioner Davis would send out chaplains to walk among the protesters and offer spiritual succor for their distress.

The program grew out of what Pastor Yeary called a “ministry of presence” that served as a buffer between police and protesters while Baltimore burned. The evening of Gray’s funeral, he and other religious leaders kneeled and prayed in the street—placing themselves between cops in riot gear and violent demonstrators. As his group marched toward the burning CVS on North Avenue—Yeary insists they’d made a fateful wrong turn to wind up there—”Law enforcement sees this mass of linked arms, mind you now, mostly African-American clergy coming toward them. There’s no one to communicate to the commander that sees us coming that we come in peace.” Yeary, who told us he’d been an armorer in the reserves, could see the officers coming to attention as they approached. “I know when a formation is coming toward you, you need to figure out what you’re going to do pretty quickly,” he said.

If the group of clergy didn’t extend an olive branch somehow, Yeary said, “What we meant for good could go bad very quickly on live TV. How can we communicate to the police department that we’re here to help, and we certainly don’t want to be a complication to their work?” That was when one of the group turned and said, “‘Everybody kneel, stop right here and kneel. And everybody pray.’ Something happened in that moment.”

What happened in that moment has resonated broadly and guided the BPD through a troubled time. Commissioner Davis described the pitch of many police departments’ soul-searching in recent years: “How do we get back to entering this vocation with a stronger intent to serve and to police communities consistent with their values and not our values?” (Only 20 percent of the Baltimore police force is actually from Baltimore, Davis would later tell a young man who rose during the brief question and answer period to ask what steps the officers are taking to get to know the people they police.) “When we impose our will and do so unilaterally in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, and elsewhere, we will inevitably experience moments like April and May of 2015 in Baltimore. Our profession realizes we have to find a different way forward.” And, the path forward will “begin and end with relationships with the faith community,” he said.

We used to have a better sense of the social need for a strong faith community, Archbishop Lori told me. “What I think we have seen is kind of an erosion as the country becomes more secular,” he said. “Fewer people practice the faith. The value of religion and religious ministry diminishes in their view.”

On that note, Dr. Byron Johnson, director of the Baylor Institute for Religious Studies and moderator of Wednesday night’s panel, sees President Trump’s executive order on religious liberty as a promising development. “Religious persecution is not something that just happens in other countries,” he told me. “When we live in such tense times, you can feel out there communities of faith have so much to offer, and they’re open for partnerships,” but, “If we’re not careful, religious restrictions will prevent us from playing a more important role here.” But we need look no further than BPD’s burgeoning chaplaincy—”What we heard here with these guys is that faith and service actually work in the communities.”

Since the 1960s, a string of urban riots has amplified collective grief to a destructive extreme. They erupt when the arc of racial progress seems all at once, all too clearly, not just flattened but broken—and a public mourning transmutes to a riotous rage. Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of the Rodney King riots, eerily mirrored in the topic at hand.

But can Baltimore’s collaboration, service that actually works, break the chain—can they serve as a model for other cities? “Let’s hope so,” Archbishop Lori said.