Nine people were fatally shot Wednesday at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., igniting calls for prayers and gatherings across the country and across denominational lines.
From church leaders to political leaders, the mass shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church pricked the hearts of many in one of oldest and most prominent church denominations in the country.
“The AME church has a real strong connective bond across the country,” said Dakarai Aaron, a member of the Board of Stewards at Metropolitan AME church in Washington DC. “When one of us hurts all of us hurt.”
Metropolitan AME, which is the “National Cathedral Church,” of the AME Denomination, will host a community prayer service to remember the victims of the shooting at noon on Friday.
“We are all concerned about this tragedy, but we are also concerned about how we can work together as a beloved community across race denominational lines,” Aaron said.
The AME Church was founded in 1794 by Richard Allen and other blacks in Philadelphia after they were pulled from their knees while praying in an all-white church. In 1816, black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church withdrew from what was then the Free African Society because of a dispute over burial ground and they formed a separate congregation.
In 1821, Denmark Vesey, one of the Charleston church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. Denmark had purchased his own freedom for $1,500 with money from a winning lottery ticket.
“This is a tragedy for the AME church, the black church in general and people of faith and conscious across the country and around the world,” said Joshua DuBois, a former White House adviser to President Obama. “We need to make sure that the killer is brought to justice, and we address the evils of supremacy and hate that appear to have motivated this terrible deed.”
The Rev. Jonathan Weaver, pastor of the Greater Mount Nebo AME Church in Bowie, Md., said he is asking Muslims, Christians and Jews to come to his church’s prayer service on Saturday.
“We have to send a message that we have to continue to fight for racial reconciliation and unite no matter what our race, creed or ethnicity,” Weaver said.
The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state senator, was identified as one of the victims Thursday. Bishop William P. DeVeaux, prelate of the Second Episcopal District, said that he knew the Pickney and members of the Mother Emanuel.
“This young man was active in trying to get cameras in police cars,” DeVeaux said. Before returning to Washington D.C., DeVeaux was the bishop overseeing churches in Georgia who made many trips to the Charleston congregation. “This kind of caught us all off guard.”
Wednesday’s shootings will likely set off discussions about security staff in churches. The Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Md., said that may AME churches have enhanced security. Ebenezer, for instance, has 30 people on a security team, including two full-time employees, 25 volunteers and seven Prince Georges County Police officers.
“In this day and time, you need to be aware of security, but you also have to be careful not to overact,” Browning said. “We can’t let the demented actions of one man cause us to overreact.”