Concord faith communities gather to mourn Charleston shooting victims, pray for peace

Last modified: 6/25/2015 12:17:12 PM
They came to church to pray.

Last week, a Wednesday evening Bible study gathered in a historic church in South Carolina. A young white man opened fire on that prayer group and killed nine African-American people, in what officials allege was a racially motivated hate crime.

Exactly one week later, another group gathered Wednesday evening in a historic church in Concord. Hosted by the Greater Concord Interfaith Council and South Congregational Church, more than 75 local people joined together to mourn the killings at Emmanuel AME. Church in Charleston and pray for peace.

“I wish we didn’t have to be here,” the Rev. Jared Rardin of South Congregational said. “But we do.”

“It’s right that we should come together, and grieve the brutal and senseless loss of life we witnessed last Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C.,” he continued. “It is right that we come together to grieve the fact that this is not an isolated incident, but this is just the most recent chapter in a long narrative of violence and injustice against African-Americans.”

The message was one of unity, of rising above hate and racism. The people in the pews at South Congregational came from all different faith communities, and each added its own words to the service.

They heard a traditional Jewish prayer in memory of the dead. They heard Rabbi Robin Nafshi break from the Hebrew to read the names of the nine Charleston victims. They heard a message of support from a local imam, a prayer from a Hindu leader and a call against racial injustice written by national Buddhist leaders.

They heard the Rev. Clemente Kigugu of the Overcomers Church of God and Honore Murenzi of the New American Africans read alternating verses from Psalms 22 and 23 – one psalm of lament, one of hope.

They heard parts of writings by South African Bishop Desmond Tutu. They heard an excerpt from the eulogy Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at a memorial service for three young girls murdered in the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama.

The victims “say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution,” Maggie Fogarty of the American Friends Service Committee read from King’s speech. “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

They wrote down messages of grief and support, which will be mailed to Emmanuel AME Church. They swayed along to a simple hymn.

“We shall overcome,” they sang. “We shall overcome.”

They bowed their heads in prayer.

“We have borne witness, but the witness has barely begun,” Rardin said. “These walls were not built to keep us in, but to restore us for the work beyond these walls that needs so much doing in love and in justice. So let us take the energy and the passion of this service, and let us carry it forth into the world.”

And then the people in the pews gathered and wished each other peace, hugging and shaking hands.

“May God’s peace be with you,” they said.

“And also with you,” they replied.

They came to church to pray.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321, or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)


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