I write on behalf of the Charleston congregation to thank you for the many messages of concern and support we have received, and to provide a brief perspective on the soul and state of our beloved city.
Of course, we’re reeling and will be for some time, yet poignant examples of healing and unity abound in our midst. Last night, members of our church gathered with thousands of our neighbors to grieve, pray, and sing together in a downtown arena. An interfaith core of clergy revisited ancient, holy words as source of comfort and perspective, and also as clarion call toward renewed equity, justice, and moral solidarity. Our civic leaders, particularly our popular, forty-year mayor, Joseph P. Riley, Jr., called for a revival of community cooperation and reminded us that once united, we will recover and move forward. He also addressed our national fixation with handguns and said it is surely time for more reasoned conversation and swift reform.
Afterward, we walked the few blocks from the arena to nearby Emanuel AME church, longstanding symbol of African American identity and progress, and sadly now and evermore, a murder site where 3 men and 6 women were slain. Flowers, layers deep, brought by friends, mourners, and supporters, lined the sidewalk outside the church. A piper, in full regalia, moved to the center of the street and played “Amazing Grace.” Hundreds in the street, of different age, faith, and race joined in song. Soon after, those same voices shared an impromptu chorus of “This Little Light of Mine.” Then, a dozen or so Jewish Charlestonians formed a circle in the street and sang their songs of evening prayer and Kaddish. Though we walked, left our memorial flowers, and sang through tears, and despite the recent bloodshed that called us together, it was after all, still the Sabbath.
Forty percent of enslaved people delivered to America entered through the port of Charleston. The Civil War was ignited here and the Confederate flag continues to fly on our Statehouse grounds. These and other difficult truths point to the significant baggage of racism and injustice that continues to influence life in Charleston. Yet, please know that we are more united than one might think. Thus far, our streets are filled more with abiding faith than blind rage. Property has not been vandalized and vigils have been marked by diversity and peace. Earlier Friday, as the disturbed and poisoned young man who wrought such violence stood at his bond hearing, the family members of those he murdered—those most entitled to rage and vengeance, instead spoke to him words of compassion and even forgiveness.
As you gather in worship yourselves, thank you again for remembering the deceased and their families: Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, and Myra Thompson. Remember too those survivors wounded in the attack and recovering.
We will never be the same. Charleston will bear the scars of the assault on Mother Emanuel church, yet we will not be defeated. The work of justice is never-ending and commitment to the beloved community is ever needed. Even in the haunted American south, love will prevail.
Rev. Danny R. Reed The Unitarian Church in Charleston
P.S. There is a National Call to Action for Solidarity Vigils/Actions to take place tomorrow on Sunday, June 21 at 6:00pm around the country. Add your vigil at the Ferguson Response Network Here.
Photograph from Overpass Light Brigade