Prayer Vigil For 9 Martyrs

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The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us. –John 17:21

This week, I was going to process through some thoughts on anger that I’m pondering.  However, that was before a young man brought a gun into a church and gunned down 9 people.

I’m still wrestling with my own ‘white privilege,’ racism in America, ‘black lives matter’, how we can still be struggling for equality in the 21st century, and how far we still have to go in looking past people’s skin tones as a judgement on their character.  

For this post, I simply want to give some space for solidarity, unity, and lamenting.  On Friday night, I attended a prayer vigil at a local AME church.  Several leaders from the community, other congregations, other faith traditions spoke about how Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated time of the week in America.  How every Sunday should look like that gathering–men and women leading, black and white intermingling, all being welcomed.

The joy and fervency of the AME congregation, as well as the other ‘black’ congregations represented, expressed conviction that they (the black Christian community) would rise victorious because they ‘had been here before.’  People spoke of Selma, Juneteenth, Ferguson, and more recent events.  My eyes began to flood.  They spoke of forgiveness, of needing the white people to act, of wanting true equality–not separate equality–in their lifetimes.  My eyes could no longer hold the tears.

Others spoke.  A Jewish rabbi.  A Baha’i leader.  A Buddhist leader.  An Anglican priest.  A Baptist preacher.  The head of the local NAACP.  Another Jewish leader.  Men.  Women.  Black.  White.  All united in wanting our world to be better.  More tears.

Then came the roll call of the 9 people who died.  ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ sung in a hushed hum.

(‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way)

Clementa Pinckney

(‘When sorrows like sea billows roll’)

Tywanza Sanders

(‘Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say’)

DePayne Middleton-Doctor

(‘It is well, it is well with my soul’)

Cynthia Hurd

(‘It is well’)

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

(‘With my soul’)

Susie Jackson

(‘It is well’)

Ethel Lance

(‘It is well’)

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr.

(‘With my soul’)

Myra Thompson

Then, in resounding and swelling volume, we all sang in unison the chorus again.  I felt the Holy Spirit in that gathering.  It felt like how ‘church’ is supposed to be.  And the call that we can’t let this be a one-off event.  We need more gatherings like this one.  I believe other churches are planning on having gatherings like this once a month in my area.  I plan on attending those efforts.

I left with a bittersweet feeling.  I couldn’t shake the sulphuric taste in my soul that it took the martyrdom of 9 people to get us to integrate a congregation for one night.  We can’t wait for other martyrs to continue integrating.  We just can’t!  The time was 150 years ago.  The time was 50 years ago. The time is NOW!  Will we continue to pass on this separation to future generations? Or will we finally say, “ENOUGH ALREADY,” and actually do something to change our corner of the world?

What can we do?  Well, glad you asked:

  1. We can intentionally attend a church or meeting of people who are not our skin color.
  2. We can ask our pastors and leaders to work with congregations and organizations of people who are not our skin color–and support those efforts with our presence, money, time.
  3. We can support community events that celebrate all our skin colors.
  4. We can have conversations over coffee, over lunch, at our dinner tables about racial injustice in our own nation.
  5. We can admit to our own prejudices (not necessarily racial), discomforts, fears, and hopes publicly and privately.
  6. We can vote for candidates that have a track record of taking injustices (not just racial) seriously and have pledged to use their influence to enact change in our country.
  7. We can get to know our neighbors, of any color, and build community again in our towns.
  8. We can support Emanuel AME church with donations, or find a church or organization in our communities who struggle because they are made up of minorities and don’t have the resources that more privileged organizations enjoy.

I’m sure there are many other ideas.  Please share them with me!  Because I don’t want to go to bed another night weeping because more lives have been lost due to hate or in the name of ‘purity.’

We don’t have the luxury of getting tired of these conversations and ignoring the Facebook posts and news articles.  Lives are at stake.  Our country is at stake.  Our humanity is at stake.  Our souls are at stake.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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