The killings of nine churchgoers at a historic black church in Charleston. S.C. on Wednesday night turned a sacred space into one of devastation and death.
This weekend, 300 miles north, Triangle pastors and their congregations are determined to use those sacred spaces to come to terms with the slayings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which were thought to be racially motivated, as well as traumatic memories of other racialized violence.
“We will never be afraid to assemble,” Rev. Marion Robinson of St. Matthew AME Church in Raleigh said at a prayer vigil Thursday night. “We will never be afraid to close our eyes in prayer.”
Dumas Harshaw, pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh, said his services on Sunday would include a moment of silent prayer, which the Baptist State Convention has requested, but also a time at the end to discuss concerns raised by the shooting.
“They need to express it,” Harshaw said of those saddened and frustrated by the violence. “Rather than sitting in front of your TV alone on a Sunday morning, you can gather with other people.”
He said the incident comes during a time of unrest regarding the treatment of black people in America, which manifested itself previously in protests over police shootings, including one in North Charleston, S.C.
Dylann Roof, 21, the suspect in the killings, is currently being held in a North Charleston jail, next to the officer charged in the police shooting, according to the Associated Press.
“You see a troubled young man that is filled with the hatred in our society,” Harshaw said of Roof. He added that he thought the act to be racially motivated, but also individual and not organized.
Harshaw, speaking Thursday afternoon in his office with a large portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said he intends to stress a nonviolent response to racism at his service on Sunday.
Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or in Raleigh said Friday that she also considered the tragedy a call to action for her community to redouble efforts to combat prejudice and injustice.
Dinner said she planned to read the names of the nine victims during a part of a Friday evening service that honors the dead, typically marking anniversaries of deaths in the community.
Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh also called for prayer for the victims in Charleston at Mass at all Catholic churches in the region.
“With this being in a church, there’s a specific need for prayer,” said Billy Atwell, Director of Communications for the diocese.
Rev. Gregory Edmond of St. Paul AME Church in Raleigh, which convened Thursday night’s vigil, said he thought the shooting should motivate leaders across faith traditions to come together to address issues that trouble their congregations.
“It ought to bring us to the table,” Edmond said.
Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin Street Baptist Church in Raleigh, said he believes the shooting demonstrates a need for tighter gun laws, as well as conversation about race.
Johnson said that the church was considering stricter security, and that church-goers will likely be “on guard” in the weeks to come. But, he added that he anticipates that church-goers across the black community would be undeterred by the act of violence.
Harshaw said tragedy and struggle typically bring more people to church on Sunday, and he anticipated this weekend to be no different. He added that he believed the churches would continue to be places to fight injustice.
Charleston’s Emanuel church was founded before emancipation and has a long history of involvement in activism for racial justice.
“I know the church can do it,” Harshaw said.