‘Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! ... The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.”
A reading of Psalm 37 set the tone for an evening of remembrance, praise and holy celebration Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church.
A year ago, the historic Charleston church opened its doors to congregation members and the public – friends, family and strangers – as it did and continues to do every Wednesday for an evening of worship, prayer and studying God’s word.
A dozen people had gathered for a study of the Gospel of Mark, chapter 4, Jesus’ parable of the seed sower.
That Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, evil sat among them. Nine of them would perish that night, shot by a man who first joined them for an hour while they worshiped and studied that same verse.
This Wednesday night, Mother Emanuel was filled with dozens upon dozens of congregation members and others, including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, victims’ family members and others from the community and beyond, all embraced by a palpable spirit of joy as they revisited the parable of the seed sower.
When God spoke, nothing was transformed into something. And that’s what the word of God can do for our lives.
The Rev. Anthony Thompson
“Instead of letting Jesus change our lives, we tell him ... I’ve got this,” the Rev. Anthony Thompson of Charleston’s Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church told the group. Thompson visited Emanuel on Wednesday to lead the Bible study in honor of his wife, Myra, who was killed last year after leading the same study. “Many of us intentionally refuse the word of God because we believe we’ve got it.”
Thompson borrowed from his wife’s notes, which he remembers her diligently preparing before her death.
The Bible study was the first of many commemorations this week and next in the city.
The group Wednesday didn’t gather in the basement, where the shootings happened, but in the church’s large sanctuary. Another glaring difference a year later was the police and media presence inside and around the church.
Speaking to a crowd of some 200 people, Thompson stood in the same pulpit once commanded by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and the pastor of the church who was killed along with Myra Thompson and seven other Emanuel parishioners: Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons and the Rev. Sharonda Singleton.
Their accused killer, avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof, awaits not one, but two death penalty trials in the coming months. The Emanuel congregation, meanwhile, lifted up his name and his Columbia-area family members in prayer Wednesday, calling upon God’s mercy on his behalf.
There was mention in Thompson’s message of the need for gun control and the problems of racism and the mass incarceration of African-American men –societal issues brought to light in the immediate days and long months since the church slayings but that, Thompson and many others say, have been insufficiently addressed since the Emanuel Nine were lost.
I don’t think things have changed for the better. ... I pray for it to get better every night.
“I don’t think things have changed for the better,” said Korynn Braden, of Detroit, who is vacationing in South Carolina with her husband, Jon. They visited Emanuel on Wednesday evening with their friends Don and Barbara Butch of Summerville. “People act like they’re losing their minds. They’re forgetting their morals and forgetting their values. It’s just sad. Look at what just happened in Orlando. You turn on the TV, and it just makes you sad.
“So I hope it gets better. I pray for it to get better every night.”
Thompson, though, pointed to what he says is the only true chance for change in the world: listening to the word of God and sharing it with a world that needs it.
“When God spoke, nothing was transformed into something. And that’s what the word of God can do for our lives,” he said. “It can change our attitudes. It can change our hearts to be who God wants us to be, doing what God wants us to do.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.