They came to share their sorrow, grief, apprehensions and frustrations, and to draw strength from one another. That was the purpose of a special ceremony at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester.
Members and visitors gathered at the church Sunday, June 21, after the regular service to talk about the fatal shooting of nine people in South Carolina last week.
On Wednesday, June 17, Dylann Roof, 21, walked into the Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. during a Bible study session and killed nine people including senior Pastor Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator.
According to St. Paul’s pastor, the Rev. Wayne Croft, Sunday’s ceremony was designed for healing.
“People need to express their feelings,” Croft said after the ceremony. “Although we may not always agree with what people feel, they need to express it. I think some of the rage that is acted out is because people are holding things in and their response to it is often violent if they don’t have a place in which to talk about it. I hope that today helps people to, either by way of hearing it or expressing it themselves, feel some relief and gain some strength.”
Croft expressed some of his own frustration and sorrow during the ceremony when he praised the families of the victims who were able to forgive Roof, but said he wasn’t certain he could do the same had he been in their position.
Much of what was said during the hour-long ceremony dealt with the larger picture of racism in America that led to the shooting. Croft said one of the things he’s planning is to go to Charleston with other members of the clergy to lend their voices in trying to get the Confederate battle flag removed from the South Carolina state House.
And while there is a “sense of unrest,” Croft added that he has not given up on America, adding that he must have hope in spite of difficulties and people “must continue to fight for justice.”
Members of the church expressed their fears and apprehension of police brutality and how it seems to be more prevalent when police deal with black people. One person called for a policy requiring police to use Tasers first, not to automatically reach for their pistols.
Others spoke of getting the clergy more involved in a national discussion. One said the black clergy has been too silent in recent years, and that it must become as vocal as it had been during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Yet, he also called for more white voices to speak up: “Nothing happened with civil rights until whites got involved.”
The ceremony included the lighting candles and the singing of an original song, “They Met to Read the Bible,” in honor of those who were killed Wednesday. From that, they moved to singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Croft reminded people to keep their faith in God, to ask for the strength to continue the fight for social justice.