May our hearts be broken open with care and prayers the people of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Violence is a tragedy anywhere, but to have it happen within a church while people are gathered to pray and study the bible is horrifying. And to know that this historic African American church was targeted because of it’s racial composition should cause us all to fall to our knees and pray, God have mercy on our nation. We may not see ourselves as being actively responsible for such a crime, however we do have to acknowledge that we participate in a culture that has created a climate where racism, hatred and the means to do violence are everywhere present.
The apostle Paul describes the church as the Body of Christ. As a body we are connected. When one part suffers, we all suffer. Already grieved by the news of the nine who lost their lives, I later found out that one of the people who died is a relative of our UCC National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership, Rev. Waltrina Middleton. Below is her letter to her UCC church family which includes us. Let us hold Rev. Middleton and her family and all the people who lost loves ones and are directly affected by this terrible tragedy in our love and in our prayers. And let us commit ourselves to doing our part to be the change we wish to see in the world.
A Letter from Rev. Waltrina Middleton
18 June 2015
Dear Sisters and Brothers: My heart experienced the unimaginable late last night as the sun began to set in some places, and before the moon could peak through weary cloud-cast skies in others.
The very thing I fight and organize against-a deeply masked and far reaching culture of violence in our society has descended upon the steps of my family and matriculated its way into the sanctuary of the church. Last night during bible study and prayer service, a gunman entered the historical Mother Emmanuel AME church of Charleston, SC and opened fire on the 11 persons gathered there. There were only two survivors. With deep sorrow, I write to share that my beloved first cousin was among the 9 fatalities. Her death was confirmed this morning and the unspeakable grief of this loss has knocked me and my family off kilter.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “it is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box…” But suppose your life depended on that invisible rope that is your faith? Today, the weight of that invisible rope tugs at my trembling heart and such invisible faith is tested as we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death all around us. We are reassured to fear not evil, but to trust in the rod and the staff for comfort, protection, guidance and perhaps understanding when the morning comes. Please keep my family, Mother Emmanuel congregation, and all those impacted by this rampant culture of violence in the center of your prayers. Let us come together for such a time as this to the sacred clearing-no matter our faith or practice, and be on one accord in the spirit of love, hope, and healing to seek justice and peace for these and other victims of hatred and violence.
Let us put our faith to action and be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies or arrangements. Let us remove our instruments from the poplar trees and call the people, the public officials, and yes, the church to action to address the festering sores of racism, classism and militarism-as they intersect this culture of violence. How can we begin to eradicate this evil without acknowledging the realities of racialized policing, hate crimes, and the disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown bodies?
Alas, it is morning and tear filled dew drops fall fresh upon my face, with eyes watching God and a soulful lament. Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in the reconciling power of God for the brokenhearted and the oppressed.
Yours in faith & justice,
Rev. Waltrina Middleton, United Church of Christ National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership
I would also like to share the following prayer lifted up from the National Office of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio:
Dear God of many Names, we come to you in our time of grief. Help us dear God to understand how such tragedy occurs in the midst of your beloved family. Because you have made us One Body, help us dear God to reach across the lines which divide us. At this time, we ask for special prayers for our beloved family in Charleston, South Carolina and all who connect to them in life and spirit. Keep them close to your heart dear One and protect them with power of your Holy Spirit. We pray all this in the blessed name of Jesus the Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen