In the community, and across the state and nation, we find ourselves reeling from Wednesday’s deaths of nine unarmed churchgoers.
How can horror hit so close to home? How can the victims have been so defenseless? The evil-doer so evil?
We struggle to find the answers. And, ashamed almost, we struggle to be as unwaveringly forgiving as the people who lost the most that day at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.
The State newspaper asked several Columbia-area ministers what their counsel will be to their parishioners Sunday, in their own holy houses.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The State
Here’s what they said:
Rev. B. Jerome Goodwin, Pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Camden
“In the midst of tragedy and calamity, God yet speaks. Yes, we mourn. Yes, we ask the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? Yes, God allows certain things to occur that we do not quite understand. But He is a just and righteous God who is still in control.
“And even as He comforts bereaved families and strengthens His people, God is calling on the church to consider its ways and to concentrate on people rather than buildings.
“We don’t know when, where or how we are going to die, but we must be ready and fit when our time comes. We must be focused on winning souls for Christ rather than worrying about our own selfish ambitions. We must be focused on unifying the body rather than excluding people based on race or ethnicity. Now, more than ever, God is calling for the church to be the church.”
Rev. Ronnie Elijah Brailsford Sr., pastor, Bethel AME Church, Columbia
“We are a resilient people of faith in God. Why? Because God is with us. Emmanuel means, ‘God is with us.’ We (the AME church) are a people of the Christian faith. We will celebrate 200 years of being formally organized as the AMEC in July of 2016. Nearly 200 years ago, the founding father, Bishop Richard Allen, lead his people courageously through many trials, temptations, tests, threats and dangers. He had to fight to be free and remain free. He had to overcome fears from within and without. He had to overcome racism and bigotry. Yet, with faith in God, he stood strong and boldly.
“So this is not the first time our resolve as a people of faith, whose color happens to be black, has had to withstand difficult and trying times. . . We have come too far to turn around. The power of our love is too strong for hate.
“And our faith is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Thus, we stand. The work of the Lord shall go forward. Why? Because we are the people of Emmanuel. God is with us.”
Jim Powell, associate pastor, Blythewood Presbyterian Church, Blythewood
“Hebrews 10 tells us that with the coming of Jesus, God brought forward the true form of reality. No more shadows . . In no week of my life have I been so eager for this shadow-world to pass. This evil and grievous tragedy in Charleston has brought sickness into our souls, reminding us that we live in a world that is not yet made perfect. It is another sad reminder that we are still waiting.
“We do not want the shadow of earthly civil justice; we long for the true form of righteous justice. We do not want the shadow of earthly comfort from our remaining friends and family – we want the true form of God’s promised reality where there will be eternal comfort among those who live forever, with no more pain or tears anymore. . . . This is the God who promises us a true form of righteousness and justice and peace and truth that will one day wash our souls of this pain, forever.”
Pastor Ivory Torrey Thigpen, pastor, Rehoboth Baptist Church, northeast Richland County
“Once again the scab of this country’s racial wound has been pulled off, only this time there is much more than a trickle of blood. In fact I can only imagine that there are pools of blood on the carpet, on the pews, and splatter on the walls in the sanctuary at Emanuel AME Church. Though this blood, much like Abel’s spilled blood, is not silent. For as the Lord declared to Cain, the Lord now declares to South Carolina and this country, ‘Listen, your brother’s blood is crying out to me …’
“Therefore as with any trauma with so much blood, attention must be given. But for all the attention given to naming the type of crime or naming the type of criminal, I come here today to suggest our attention be given not to the crime or criminal but instead to ‘the crimson’ and to those who courageously shed ‘the crimson’ on that sacred night!”
Chris Seeby, executive pastor, Radius Church, Lexington
“I’ve spent the past few days consuming every news story, update, live report that I could find, because my brain is having a hard time answering the biggest question of the day … Why?
“I’ve read the social media streams that point to the racial divide, the Confederate history of our state, even laws related to who and when you can purchase guns. I’ve listened to ... many ... talk about the timeline of events, the latest potential confession and the thought that this almost didn’t happen ‘because they were so nice.’ And after reading all of this, we still don’t know ... Why?
“But yesterday morning, as I was sitting at my kitchen table working on my words for this morning I was reminded that I can rest in the unknown. … That we can stop working for the why behind this tragedy and focus on the stories of God’s goodness through this tragedy.”
Monsignor Richard D. Harris, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Columbia
“As He calms the waves that are tossing us about, we are assured that our faith in God, which we profess during the happier days of our lives, will spiritually strengthen us.
“Through the eyes of faith we can see the storms in our life, not as times when things are breaking apart, but are in fact breaking open to more clearly see the sun /Son who loves and cares for us.
“We are people of hope, and our faith gives us the encouragement and assurance that no matter what may happen in our lives, God’s promise of: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you’ will always carry us through the darkest of storms to a brighter future and to a new beginning.”