When tragedies such as the murder of nine church members inside the Mother Emanuel AME church last week in Charleston, SC, strike, many are ready to strike back.
It was not the case Tuesday night, when members of the clergy in Chelsea – including the Rev. Sandra Whitley of the People’s AME Church in Chelsea – called for forgiveness and love to be showered on the accused murdered, Dylan Roof, who has said he was a white supremacist and wanted to start a race war.
No, there was no calls for an eye for an eye at the prayer vigil in St. Luke’s Church on Washington Avenue, but a call for God to forgive the young man.
Like the relatives of the ‘Mother Emanuel 9’ who have unanimously announced publicly that they forgive Roof, those at Tuesday’s special service called out forgiveness and not retribution.
“He went into that church last week to shower down hate and bring more hate, but he is going to be showered with love,” said Whitley. “He is going to be showered with love and forgiveness like he has never seen…Out of all the churches that could have been chosen, Mother Emanuel was chosen. Emanuel means ‘God is with us.’ So, for the AME churches and the churches throughout Chelsea and around the world, God is with us.”
The prayer vigil to remember and promote healing in the wake of the racist-fueled murders last week came at the behest of the clergy and about 30 or so people from churches all over the City came out to hear the prayers and scripture readings and provide comments.
“It’s prayer that will end this, someday all of this racism will be over,” said one woman, in tears.
Rev. Edgar Duarte of St. Luke’s, like Whitley, called first for the young man, Roof, to find forgiveness from God and believers all over the world.
“We have to start here as there is power in forgiveness,” he said. “Look upon this child and remember, God, he is just your lost sheep.We ask for you to look upon him and remember he was born pure and born without hatred and had an eagerness to discover the world and thrive in the world. Remember God, he was taught to hate…We as a city are guilty of the same sin, not only him…Allow us to have compassion for him.”
All four clergy members present also called for a revival in the churches of Chelsea.
“This story is going to be a part of the history of our country, but it has scarred the soul of this country and we must never forget there are people attached to this story,” said Elliot Penn of the New Life Christian Center. “That’s why it’s so powerful for us to read the names of those killed and their ages. Justice, love and forgiveness starts now with us here in Chelsea. It can spread out from Chelsea to Revere and Everett and across the Bridge to Boston.”
Whitley said she was very heartened to have so many people from the area reach out to her in the wake of the murders due to the fact that she also leads an AME church – just as Mother Emanuel AME.
“I was very touched when people began reaching out to me after this happened,” she said. “I started receiving the phone calls and e-mails from people in Chelsea. It made me realize we’re not just another congregation. People realize there is an AME church in Chelsea and we were hurting too.”
In addition to praying for the young man Roof, many prayers and scriptures were read for the dead and their families – and for the evil of racism to be broken.
“It was just devastating to hear this was a 21 year old who walked into a church and did this,” said Whitley. “Doing the math, he was born in 1994. For racism to be perpetuated in the 21st Century, it means we have to do many things yet, but especially to pray. We must pray for racism to stop and to end. We want to pray for good to come out of this tragedy.”
Whitley – like a growing crowd of organizational leaders and politicians – also called for the Confederate battle flag to be taken down from the Capitol grounds of South Carolina and be recognized as a divisive symbol.
“It took nine lives and a person coming into a church to kill for it to be taken down when all we needed to do is talk to the other person,” she said. “When something is painful and hurtful, we need to listen and talk. Why did it take nine lives for that?”
The vigil ended with those in attendance coming together, holding hands and singing a rousing rendition of ‘This Little Light of Mine.’
“Let us come together in Chelsea and say ‘No more’ and experience a revival and stop being silent,” said Duarte. “Let love live and let voices that call for division be silent. Let Chelsea be that beacon of light that overcomes this darkness.”