Con­gre­ga­tions mourn S.C. shoot­ing vic­tims

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Es­mer­alda Ber­mudez and Jerome Camp­bell

The Rev. John Cager be­gan to field calls late Wed­nes­day night, hours af­ter a 21-year-old gun­man killed nine peo­ple at a his­toric black church in South Carolina.

His parish­ioners at Ward AME Church in South L.A. sounded shocked and shak- en. They wanted to know: Will there still be a church ser­vice on Sun­day?

“Of course there will be church,” Cager told them. “There will be church now, more than ever.”

On Thurs­day, Cager and other African Methodist Epis­co­pal lead­ers ex­pressed out­rage and sor­row over the killings at Emanuel AME Church, one of the most re­spected black con­gre­ga­tions in the South. They ques­tioned whether Dy­lann Storm Roof’s ac­tions were part of a grander scheme to ter­ror­ize what many con­sider the soul of the black com­mu­nity: the churches.

“Ev­ery­body is numb, in dis­be­lief,” Cager said. “Those hor­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ences that some of our pas­tors and bish­ops wit­nessed back in the 1950s we didn’t ex­pect to see again. And yet, here we are, in 2015.”

The church lead­ers had gath­ered at Ward AME for their reg­u­lar monthly min­is­te­rial meet­ing, but the agenda was over­taken by the news of the shoot­ing.

They took turns pray­ing for strength for their com­mu­ni­ties and for the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims in Charleston.

“Oh God, we pray that our com­mit­ment will not weaken, but grow stronger,” said Bishop C. Gar­nett Hen­ning, his head bowed. “We pray that our church lead­ers will lead us through this veil of shad­ows.”

Out­side the church, lo­cated just a few blocks from USC, two po­lice of­fi­cers stood on guard.

L.A. Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck dropped in to of­fer con­do­lences and an­swer pas­tors’ ques­tions. He had no de­tails about the in­ten­tions be­hind the shoot­ing, but said pa­trols would be on spe­cial alert around AME churches across L.A. in com­ing days. “The LAPD will stand with you to en­sure houses of wor­ship are safe,” he said. “We will take all nec­es­sary mea­sures to make sure this kind of at­tack does not re­peat it­self.”

His words only mildly eased the trep­i­da­tion. Over the decades, min­is­ters at Ward and other black churches have dealt with oc­ca­sional acts of hate and racism from out­siders.

“There’s been too many to keep count,” Cager said.

Just a few miles away at the First African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, the old- est black church in L.A., sev­eral skin­heads were con­victed in the 1990s for plot­ting to blow up the build­ing to trig­ger a race war.

That parish held a prayer vigil Thurs­day to honor the vic­tims of the mass shoot­ing in Charleston. Among the dead was the Rev. Cle­menta C. Pinck­ney, Emanuel’s 41year-old pas­tor who was also a state sen­a­tor.

Many AME lead­ers in L.A. had worked with Pinck­ney and ad­mired the prog- ress he had made within the church and in the South Carolina Leg­is­la­ture. They grieved his loss.

“This young, en­er­getic pas­tor,” Bishop T. Larry Kirkland told the group, “one of the finest pas­tors in the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church is gone.... Gone.”

At the vigil at First AME on Thurs­day evening, more than 250 peo­ple filled the pews as lead­ers from dif­fer­ent faiths joined to pray with the church’s pas­tor, the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd.

Meet­ing the watery eyes of the con­gre­ga­tion, Boyd re­counted the names of each vic­tim in the shoot­ing and gave a brief bi­og­ra­phy. But the pas­tor re­frained from men­tion­ing the sus­pected gun­man’s name.

“We will not re­peat the name … be­cause that would give him honor,” Boyd said.

Los An­ge­les Mayor Eric Garcetti de­nounced the church killings as an at­tack on the Amer­i­can char­ac­ter.

“God said thou shall not kill and that law was vi­o­lated last night,” Garcetti said at the ser­vice. “But the church can­not be de­stroyed.”

Many wres­tled with the im­pact of the shoot­ing, high­light­ing the need for gun con­trol. Some, in­clud­ing Shaar So­lari, said they feared the slay­ings would fur­ther strain the coun­try’s fraught race re­la­tions. “Church is so sa­cred to African Amer­i­cans. And this white guy comes in want­ing prayer,” So­lari said. “What does this do for the bridge of trust be­tween black and white peo­ple?”

Be­tween the rhetoric, the crowd joined in song, belt­ing out such gospels as “I Need You to Sur­vive.” Many among the pews held hands, oth­ers hugged.

In the bright lights of the sanc­tu­ary, their tears glowed.

Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

AT FIRST AME CHURCH, the old­est black church in Los An­ge­les, peo­ple sing dur­ing a me­mo­rial ser­vice for the nine peo­ple killed Wed­nes­day in Charleston.

Kent Nishimura Los An­ge­les Times

GERAL­DINE HAYES lights a can­dle for each of the vic­tims of a shoot­ing at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine peo­ple, in­clud­ing the pas­tor, were killed by 21-year-old gun­man Dy­lann Storm Roof.

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