Charleston - Grief, Courage and Witness

Charleston - Grief, Courage and Witness

I join the Rev. Gregory G. Groover Sr., pastor of the Historic Charles Street AME Church in Roxbury.  In today's Boston Globe he is quoted, “I can’t even find the words. I’m still stunned.”  And we must all join the Rev. Ray Hammond, Founding Pastor of Bethel AME Church in Boston, when he says “We’re shocked but not shattered.”

We are praying (see below)… 

We are grieving with our colleague the Rev. Waltrina Middleton, United Church of Christ National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership, whose first cousin was one of the nine who were murdered. (click here to read her testimony of heartbreak)

We are learning…opening ourselves to the raw pain so many of our siblings have experienced throughout their lives.  Take a moment to read this brief reflection by Crystal S. Lewis that was sent to me by our colleague the Rev. Theresa Coley Kouadio - With Regard to Charleston: Why I Want Us to All Stop Praying for a While.  And take an hour to watch this dialog with Dr. Jennifer Harvey called “Dear White Christians.”  Jennifer is author of Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation.
We are meeting… many of you have attended one of the many #BlackLivesMatter conversations and events that the Mass Conference has hosted over the past several months.  These will continue and we hope that many more will be engaged.  And throughout the Conference, our churches are organizing special events.  For example, on June 14, The Federated Church of Orleans hosted a forum that drew 175 people (far more than the 80 reported by the newspaper): “Police and Community: Creating Justice Together."  Read about it here. 
It’s time to call upon the courage God grants all disciples.  If there is a reason we are called to be faithful, it is not for we ourselves, but for the victims of injustice and as witnesses against systemic racism and white privilege.  Beyond prayer, beyond grief, beyond learning, beyond conversation… it’s time to act.  Each of us needs to ask and answer: What would I do if I were brave and faithful?   Many of us can follow the lead of the Rev. Sally Norris who brought together four local police chiefs and a retired NYPD Captain who has a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary.  That’s a forum every town needs.  How can we amplify the incredible courage shown by the residents of Newtown, CT where the Rev. Matt Crebbin helped lead a grief stricken town to undertake a profound witness before Congress?  Yes – it’s time for churches to speak up and speak out – not only against racial injustice – but also against guns and the culture of violence that accepts massacres as inevitable.
This is what our faithfulness is for.  Whether it’s Moral Mondays led by the Rev. William Barber, head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, fighting against a repressive state; or Mary Bonauto arguing before the Supreme Court for marriage equality; or UCC pastor the Rev. Matt Crebbin taking on the NRA; or Pope Francis going straight at capitalism, consumerism and greed – it’s time for us to be guided by courage and turn up the volume on our public witness.
This call for prayer and justice from the national officers of the UCC:
Here are two prayers – one from the Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor at Old South Church in Boston and the other from Pastor William H. Lamar IV of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
From Rev. Dr. Nancy Taylor...
Dear “Mother Emanuel” (the Historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston SC):
You, who authored courageous slave rebellions, who suffered and survived wretched bigotry, burnings and earthquake,
You, you who worshipped underground when your church was outlawed …
Dear Mother Emanuel, in this day of grievous heartache we wrap you in bands of prayer. 
We pour out upon your broken hearts the healing balm of Gilead.
You, whose shepherd has been taken from you, 
whose building has become a tomb,
whose children are terrified:
We stand with you.
We weep with you.
We rage for you.
We keep vigil with you for your beloved dead.
May the God of Moses and Miriam, of Jesus and the Mary’s,
anoint you with healing, furnish you with hope and,
one day, some day, mend your torn hearts and wipe the tears from your swollen eyes.
God help us.
From Pastor William H. Lamar IV, Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church
A Prayer for Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church:
Ancient and Holy One, our illusion of security has been pierced again by bullets. Children are not safe in schools. Elders are not safe in convalescent homes. Worshipers are not safe in sanctuaries.
Our world needs a new narrative. This nation needs a new narrative. The myth of redemptive violence controls our politics, our economics, and our theology. War never results in peace. Acts of violence, whether perpetuated by nations or individuals, unleash demonic forces upon humankind. And the poorest among us suffer most.
The myth of redemptive violence is soaked in American soil like blood. The violence unleashed by imperialists and colonialists and slave traders marches on. We wrap this history in flags and speeches about freedom, but it is violence. To be free we must call it what it is.
This myth teaches lone gunmen that violence solves problems. Our history books, our television shows, our movies, our sermons, and our politics reinforce this lie. We must stop and ask why this happens so much in the United States. It happens because the myth of redemptive violence has colonized our imaginations.
The one who pulled the trigger in Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, had a mind that was made in America.
Creation groans. Reveal your sons and daughters, those who will not rest until freedom and justice come. Amen.
If your church is planning a vigil or special service in support of  Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, please email so we can post the information on our Facebook page.


Jim Antal
Jim Antal

Jim Antal is a denominational leader, activist and public theologian.  He led the 360 churches of the Massachusetts Conference United Church of Christ from 2006 to his retirement in 2018.  An environmental activist from the first Earth Day in 1970, ...

Subscribe to our emails
Framingham, MA Office

1 Badger Road
Framingham, MA 01702

Hartford, CT Office

125 Sherman Street
Hartford, CT 06105

Toll Free Phone: 866-367-2822
Fax: 866-367-0860
General Email: