As we are in the office preparing to send Thursday’s e-news from East Brentwood Presbyterian Church, we do so in light of the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. This morning we awoke to learn that eight individuals died last evening in a terrible shooting that happened at the church’s bible study, shot and killed by a lone gunman. On Sunday our youth will be going to Charleston, SC for a week long mission trip to work in its neighborhoods. Kelly McConnell – our youth director and mission trip leader – and I exchanged emails before 8 am. By that time, we knew the shooter was white and the church black. By 9:36 a.m. the news feed had identified the shooter by name and showed his affinity towards separatist hate groups. By 10:45 am we learned of the capture of the twenty-one year old who had asked for the pastor, attended the bible study for an hour, before he opened fire. As this story unfolded, friends on Facebook expressed the need for prayer for our brothers and sisters at Emanuel; in Charleston; across our Nation. A local church in Nashville, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church announced a prayer vigil from 6-7 pm (see below). The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), shared a prayer that was sent to pastors (see below). These words were part of the statement:
“The chief of police in Charleston has named this a hate crime. We know of no other name for a crime that forces a five-year-old child to play dead in her church in order to live. Arresting the shooter is the job of law enforcement. Arresting hate is the work we are all called to do as disciples of Jesus Christ. May God never give up on us as we face our own racism and its tragic impact on congregations, their communities, and our very souls.”
I formed a prayer. I tried to write a sermon. The text? Jesus calming the storm. The early church knew what it meant to be in a little boat in a stormy sea. Small, insignificant, a tiny minority in every city, often tormented, persecuted, hunted down, arrested, tortured, executed by the most powerful entity in the world, the Roman Empire--the early church loved this story of the disciples in the boat and Jesus calming the storm. They heard in that story that they weren't alone in that boat. They had each other and they had Jesus, who was very much in the boat with them and whose commitment to them produced calm and comfort and peace even in the midst of the most violent of storms. The truth for me behind the story of Jesus calming the seas is that there is no storm, no threat, no chaos that can undo us or negate us or destroy us because Jesus is there with us. No matter what is going on, we are ultimately safe; although all hell, literally, is breaking loose, we are safe in his presence and his love.
This morning the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is in a stormy sea.
Fred Craddock once said, “We're all in the boat. Some of us are rowing, some are bailing, some are pulling at the sail, some are praying." We can whistle and sing. We can give pep talks to each other, "We can make it, we can make it," which helps a lot, because we are in the boat together.
Folks! We are all in the boat together. We can make it together. But we HAVE to do something about arresting hate and racism that is our modern day Leviathans. And while we are all in this boat together can we have a sensible conversation about some level of reasonable gun control? Sandy Hook and Columbine and now Charleston implore us to consider the rights of others who are in the boat to do simple things like go to elementary school, grow up, and study the Bible. How does the right to gun ownership supersede those rights?
A prayer from our Stated Clerk:
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, God who has brought us thus far on our way, only you know why someone would enter into your house of worship and open fire on your children. Only you know why hate would run so deep that it would cause one of your creations to kill others you have formed. In our confusion over this senseless act, we appeal to you for understanding and courage to continue to fight for justice. We pray right now for the families of those who lost lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17, and ask that you would wrap your loving arms around them and the entire community. Likewise, we pray for an end to the continued racial unrest and violence that permeates the United States and the world, and ask you to guide us to work earnestly for change. Now unto you who is able to keep us from falling, we pray all these things. Amen
A Prayer Vigil in solidarity with Christians across the Nation:
Many of us woke up this morning to news of the tragedy that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, yesterday evening when a gunman sat in a Prayer Meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before shooting and killing nine members of that congregation. In solidarity with the faithful in Charleston and all across the country, the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee will be holding A Prayer Vigil this evening (Thursday, June 18th) from 6:00 – 7:00 PM at the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, located at 949 T.S. Jackson Avenue, North, in Nashville (not far from the south side of the main Tennessee State University Campus).
All who would come with a mind to pray are invited to attend.
Presbytery of Middle Tennessee