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Charleston shooting: Nine candles, one prayer at community vigil

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Accused mass murderer Dylann Roof has been a miserable failure at starting a race war in South Carolina.

The avowed white supremacist is charged with killing nine people inside Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, hoping to ignite a rage that would pit one race against another.

“God does not see us as a color,” said the Rev. Mitchell Adger, pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Pawleys Island during a service of healing and prayer this week. “He sees us by the blood on the cross that was shed for our sins.”

Members of Holy Cross-Faith Memorial, a predominantly white Episcopal church, joined with those of a half-dozen African-American churches Tuesday to pray for the families of the victims and even the 21-year-old man sitting in a jail cell in Charleston facing charges.

If the Episcopalians came expecting a mournful service, they were happily surprised to be lifted into the arms of Jesus in song and praise, joining the Mount Zion Mass Choir, clapping along and singing with drummer and vocalist Shemiaka Bryant: “Jesus will turn it around; he’ll turn it around.”

And that’s what happened over the course of the hour. Tears of sadness over the senseless slaughter of innocent people at church — it could have been these people at a Wednesday night prayer meeting — turned to tears of joy, hugs and Christian love.

Adger said the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME and one of the nine who died, loved the lyrics, “Jesus said lean on me. I will never let you down.”

Adger called three men to light candles representing the nine who were slain and offer prayers.

Barry Taylor honored Pinckney, Daniel Simmons and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. “Remove anger, hatred and indifference,” he said, “and replace it with love.”

Leonard Nelson honored Tywanza Sanders, DePayne Middleton-Doctor and Cynthia Hurd. “There are seasons we have to go through,” Nelson said. “Earth has sorrow, but it has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” He asked God to bind the worshippers’ broken spirits and bless Roof and his family. “We are all in this together,” Nelson said. “Give us the wisdom to understand it.”

Norman Reid honored Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance and Susie Jackson. “We don’t know why you allowed this to happen,” Reid prayed, “but we know you have a plan.” Someday, he added, the worshippers would walk hand in hand with the “nine precious angels” who were taken.

The Rev. Brian Swinton of St. Mary AME Church in Pawleys Island asked the worshippers to join hand in hand and walk in love. “Our hearts are crying out,” he prayed, “even though we are rejoicing.”

And the people were comforted.

College of Charleston student helps raise money for Hope Fund

A Catholic who grew up in Illinois, Brad Akers liked the diversity he found at a predominantly Jewish fraternity when he enrolled at the College of Charleston. The murder of nine members of Emanuel AME Church at Bible study last week just a few blocks away resonated in the Alpha Epsilon Pi house and among its members.

“I was pretty shocked,” said Akers, who is home at Pawleys Island for the summer. “It was a hate crime, 100 percent a hate crime.”

The fraternity is among the groups raising money to help the families of the victims through the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund created by Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley. “I wanted to do something to help the families who were devastated by this hate crime,” Akers said.

Over the weekend, he raised $300 from neighbors in the Tradition Club, where his parents live. “At that age, I would not have thought of this,” said Monique Philips, who helped spread the word about Akers’ project. It was a welcome opportunity to help, she added. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Akers continued his fundraising this week and plans to take the money to Charleston today. Those who brought checks by his parents’ house also sent thank-you notes, he said.

He transferred to the College of Charleston from the University of Kentucky. He was looking for a smaller college and his parents had just retired to Pawleys Island. “I fell in love as soon as I saw King Street,” Akers said.

About two-thirds of Alpha Epsilon Pi’s members are Jewish, “but we all believe in social equality,” he said. “What interested me was how diverse the group of guys were.”

He made a visit to Emanuel AME on Calhoun Street this semester with his religious studies class. “I saw it as just an ordinary church,” Akers said. “I didn’t really think about it being a black church at all.”

While in Charleston, he plans to talk with the fraternity president about continuing the fundraising campaign. Those who want to donate to the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund through the fraternity can call Akers at 843-314-0425.

Sherrif offers security training to pastors

A program that prepares schools to deal with armed intruders may expand to churches in Georgetown County in the wake of last week’s murder of the pastor and eight members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Sheriff Lane Cribb said he plans to contact the Georgetown Ministerial Alliance with an offer to conduct “active shooter” training. It began doing that for staff in the public schools in the wake of the 2012 shooting of 26 children and adults at an elementary school in Connecticut.

“It’s just to show them what it’s about, things to be on the lookout for,” Cribb said. “I want everybody to know about it.”

The class explains the steps to take to deal with intruders until law enforcement arrives. It’s different from the class that trains officers how to respond, he noted.

Once the pastors take the class, Cribb said his office could offer them to church members. He would also like to offer the classes to businesses.

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