Churches in Charleston, South Carolina united in prayer Friday night, defying the evil that visited the community when a young, White gunman shot and killed nine Black worshippers during a prayer meeting at the historic Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The victims in Wednesday’s shooting, were identified by CNN as Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59. The racially motivated mass killing is said to be the deadliest in a church for the last three decades according to Mother Jones contributor Mark Follman and is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Members of the church suspected nothing as 21 year-old Dylann Roof, sat in their midst for as long as an hour. The presence of a previously unknown, lone visitor was welcomed during Bible study and prayer.
The tragedy raises spiritual questions for some, and security concerns for others, yet, Friday evening, six Charleston area Seventh-day Adventist churches–Black, White and Latino–prayed together.
Eugene Hamilton, pastor of the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist Church in North Charleston led out in the service. He said he was also conducting prayer service Wednesday when his church received an unknown visitor. “A White male came to church last night, sat in service until the end and asked for financial assistance,” said Hamilton. “I got home and saw the [similarity] with the shooting and said ‘wow, that could’ve been me.'”
It could have happened anywhere, in any church, notes William L. Winston, president of the South Atlantic Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. His administration serves churches in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. “Our pastors and leaders are cautioned to be watchful.”
Added vigilance, technical support and security expertise is the domain of James Vines, director of security for the Adventist World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. Vines happened to visit Hamilton’s Charleston church not long ago and said he could imagine the chilling realization that such tragedy could have confronted them
“It certainly saddens me when I hear of these atrocities occurring all over the world and when it happens inside of the church,” said Vines, “I pray even harder for the Lord’s second coming!”
Whether united in tragedy, or just in the common bond of belief and human experience, the prayers that go up, are for those who suffered loss of their loved ones in yet another senseless act of violence. Hamilton’s prayer service will unite SDA believers in support.
“He also will offer, on behalf of Seventh-day Adventists throughout the region, any help needed in navigating our A.M.E. brothers and sisters through this time of pronounced grief” said Winston.