Our press conference yesterday remembering the first anniversary of the Charleston shooting was reported by NBC29 and CBS19. Click on the picture to go to their websites to view the view and read the article.
One year ago tomorrow, we witnessed in horror the slaying of nine black members of the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, as they met for a week-night bible study. The racially-motivated violence of the gunman spurred action around this country to address the ongoing plague of racism and hatred.
In Charlottesville, a multi-denominational, multi-racial group of clergy gathered together in support of each other as we recognized that what happened at Mother Emanuel could also have happened at any of our churches, too. We lamented the loss of life in Charleston, and we lamented the lack of community even among the clergy of our congregations as we are so busily engrossed in our own congregations that we hardly know each other.
For the past year, we have sought to change that, finding ways to be in relationship with one another, forging friendships that promise to support any one of us who might have need. Indeed, we recognized our inability to stand together as a community of faith if those friendships are not nurtured before such need arises.
We have much work to do together, but today we can stand here as the Charlottesville Clergy Collaborative and remember together the violence and hate perpetrated in Charleston last June, vowing to address the proliferation of gun violence in our own community, and working together for racial and economic justice in Charlottesville and the surrounding areas.
We encourage our congregations and the people of Charlottesville to pause for a moment of silence tomorrow evening at 9:05pm, remembering those who died at Mother Emanuel and vowing, with God’s help, to work to prevent such senseless and hate-filled violence in our world.
The Rev. Cass Bailey, Trinity Episcopal Church
The Rev. Dr. Lehman D. Bates, Ebenezer Baptist Church
The Rev. Will Brown, University Baptist Church
The Rev. Michael Cheuk, Charlottesville
The Rev. Winn Collier, All Souls Charlottesville
The Rev. Alvin Edwards, Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church
The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Emrey, New Beginnings Christian Community
The Rev. C. Neal Goldsborough, St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church
The Rev. Brenda Brown-Grooms, New Beginnings Christian Community
The Rev. Hodari Hamilton, First Baptist Church, West Main
The Rev. Pete Hartwig, City Church
The Rev. Willis Logan, Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Benjamin O. Maton, Immanuel Lutheran Church
The Rev. G.L. Morris
The Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas, St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church
The Rev. Marilu Thomas, Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Greg Thompson, Trinity Presbyterian Church
Deacon Garrett Trent, All Souls Charlottesville
The Rev. Paul N. Walker, Christ Episcopal Church
The Rev. Dr. Heather Warren, St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church
The Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey, Westminster Presbyterian Church
This Friday is the first anniversary of the shooting in Charleston, SC.
On June 17, 2015, nine black members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including pastor, Rev. Clementa Carlos Pinckney, were gunned down by a visitor during a Wednesday night Bible study.
Like many, I was horrified. My thoughts and prayers were with the victims of the families.
The following Sunday, countless congregations lifted up prayers and offered reflections that tried to make sense of this tragedy. At the church where I pastored, we read the names of all the victims as we spent a moment of silence during worship.
The following week, it was back to normal life for many of us.
Not so for the Rev. Dr. Alvin Edwards, Pastor of Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville.
A former mayor of Charlottesville, Rev. Edwards asked himself if the pastors in town knew and trusted each other enough to organize a quick and coordinated response if such an event took place here.
His answer was no.
So he decided to do something about it.
He invited many pastors in town for a breakfast at his church to discuss our possible response if this happened in Charlottesville.
At the first breakfast on July 14, about twenty pastors attended . . . black and white (and Asian), women and men, conservative and liberal, older and younger.
Besides being Christian ministers, we shared two things in common.
1. We didn’t all know one another.
2. We wanted to do something in response to the Charleston shooting.
Out of that breakfast, we formed the Charlottesville Clergy Collective. At later meetings, we discovered that even the things we had in common had the potential to drive us apart.
Some pastors said that they want to hear the stories of others and learn from them. For them, conversations and friendship building were important purposes of our meetings.
Other pastors said that they were tired of talking. It isn’t enough to “get to know one another.” It is time to do something for racial unity. What happened at Mother Emmanuel can’t happen again. For some, building up a true black community should be the ultimate purpose of our meetings.
During our meetings, conversations sometimes got tense.
It was hard hearing the pain and anger of some in the group without getting defensive.
It was hard hearing the platitudes of others without getting frustrated.
As simple as talking may seem, we found it hard to do so in a way where all felt safe to be honest and vulnerable.
In other words, it’s hard enough to talk about justice, much less to do justice!
I am learning that talking and doing must go with one another.
Merely talking about justice perpetuates the status quo.
Doing justice without talking and agreeing on the problem invites confusion and further division.
We are on a messy journey. Even so, our commitment to Christ and to the beloved community compels us to continue this journey together.
Walking together, listening to one another, being present to each other, and working toward specific actions and goals are all acts of love.
At our last meeting, our group decided to draft a letter remembering the first anniversary of the Charleston shooting. It will be read at a press conference 11:30 a.m. tomorrow at Mt. Zion First African Church in Charlottesville.
This is only one symbolic act.
My hope is that it is the first of many steps together toward friendship and action for racial unity.
This post reflects only the thoughts and opinions of the author. It does not reflect the opinion of others in the Charlottesville Clergy Collective.