How We Mourned for Charleston

This week, people across the nation grieved the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were killed in the name of white supremacy. I cannot imagine what this experience was like for black Americans, and I certainly cannot fathom what the friends and relatives of the victims are feeling. This is just what mourning looked like for me – a white, working class woman from Indiana.

Five of us gathered in the back room of Starbucks on Friday at noon to steal a few sacred moments in the middle of the day. We prayed with people across the country, a prayer that had been uttered before us for eight hundred years. Lord make us instruments of your peace.

We prayed to remember and we prayed to mourn. I paused in the middle to direct one of the baristas, mundane and sacred moments mixing. None of us thought we’d change anything by speaking old words where no one could see us, but I hoped if enough of us prayed, God would listen.

Sunday morning at ten o’clock we rang the bells with churches nationwide to remember Charleston. Pray for comfort, our Reverend said. Pray for an end to the racial schism dividing our country. Pray for courage for our leaders to enact lasting change.

We sat in silence for two minutes as the old bells outside tolled. I watched the morning light filter through stained glass windows onto a thousand paper doves we had hung from the ceiling.

Every week we pray by name for those of our congregation in military service, those in need, and those who have died. The prayer leader leaves a moment for us to name others, “either silently or aloud”, and whispers rise up to the vaulted ceiling as we remind God of the people we care about and the people we have lost.

This week, after the whispers, came nine names.

Reverend Clementa Pinckney.

Reverend Sharonda Singleton.

Myra Thompson.

Tywanza Sanders.

Ethel Lee Lance.

Cynthia Hurd.

Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr.

Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor.

Susie Jackson.

Dead, heavy silence sunk into the cathedral. No one so much as shuffled their feet.

I remembered when I had no church body to pour my grief into. When the anger and hopelessness kept me up at night because I wasn’t sure anyone else felt it too. Collectively naming the evil we were struggling against – racism – felt like lancing a wound to let the infection out. Not alone I heard as everyone stood in shocked silence. Not alone not alone not alone we called out to Charleston.

If they didn’t hear us this Sunday, I hope they hear us as we push back in the months to come.


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