They bowed their heads. They closed their eyes. They raised their voices and, at times, their hands in prayer, uttering “Amen,” “Yes, Lord. Mercy, Lord” and “Hallelujah!”
Some 70 people, including Barry Grissom, the U.S attorney for Kansas, gathered Saturday morning for a service of remembrance at the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan.
The event: prayers not only for the nine people killed Wednesday evening inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., but also prayers of comfort for the victims’ grieving families and even prayers of forgiveness for their alleged killer, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof.
Roof, who is white, has been arrested and charged with nine counts of murder in what officials have called a racially motivated mass killing inside the predominantly black church.
“Even in the midst of the turmoil, in the midst of the chaos, we look to you for solace,” the Rev. Tony Carter Jr. said at the start of the service.
“We lift up to you those members of the church in South Carolina,” he said, “the members of those nine families. … We pray, Lord, even for the one who brought this to pass. We pray for his soul. We pray even right now that you will stir his mind, bring him to remembrance of your goal, of your purpose for his life.”
The Rev. Jimmie Banks reflected on the commonness of such mass shootings in American history. He cautioned against becoming desensitized.
“It is ironic,” he preached. “It is ironic that while we, in recent weeks, have had vigils for drive-by shootings of babies in their homes, we switch from there to a horrible scene at a prayer meeting in Charleston, S.C. …
“We have to be careful lest we become insensitive to these types of things. Starting with the tower shooting in Texas, the Columbine, the Virginia Tech, the Sandy Hook. We seem to be going through this over and over and over again. But whenever it happens, it can’t just be viewed as ‘just another.’ Because at some point, some time, God expects people of conscience, people of prayer to come together.”
The question of why such events occur, the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. C.L. Bachus said, is often difficult to discern.
“There are some answers that we won’t get until we give in to eternity,” he said. “The fact of it is, however, ladies and gentleman, that we live in a broken world. And I think that one of the grand mistakes that is being made across the world and in our own nation is that we begin to trust in the inalienable goodness that is in humanity.”
Goodness, he said, comes from a reliance on God and following the Lord.
Grissom pondered the roots of hatred.
“I’m here on the behalf of the Department of Justice,” Grissom said. “I’m here on behalf of the president and first lady and the attorney general to join with you as we sit and think and contemplate the horrific events that took place in Charleston.
“Those events were nothing short of domestic terrorism, domestic terrorism fueled by racial hatred,” he said.
He spoke of his granddaughter.
“You know, when I leave here,” Grissom said, “I’m going to go to my son’s house, and my beautiful 3-year-old granddaughter is going to have a birthday party.”
“Amen,” many in the congregation responded.
“My granddaughter is perfect,” Grissom said. “She is nothing but love and light. …When I think about that young man who walked into that church and took those nine lives — at one point in his life, he was nothing but love and light.
“What is it that we do? What is it that we do as a country, as a culture, that we take a perfect little person who is nothing but love and light and we screw the top of their head off and we pour in all this hatred? And we pour in all this violence. That is our challenge.”
Grissom continued, “This is 2015. This is not 1964. This is not 1955. We’ve come a very long way, but we still, it is obvious, have a ways to go.”
Monsignor Michael Mullen of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kansas City, Kan., likened the victims of the shooting, in their devotion to God, to “martyrs.” He lauded the forgiveness expressed by the victims’ families toward the alleged killer, and he also offered a prayer on Roof’s account.
“I pray for his conversion,” Mullen said. “I pray for forgiveness for him. I pray for divine mercy for him.”
Among the crowd, Terri Williams, 55, of Kansas City, Kan., said she came out “because we need to pray for the families. And not just for the families. We need to pray for that young man. … Because somewhere in his life, something happened.”
The service finished with the congregation standing, forming a large circle, holding hands and praying.
Not long before the service ended, they also rose in song:
“We shall overcome. We shall overcome. We shall overcome someday.”
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