Reverend Dr. Betty Deas Clark, pastor of Mother Emanuel, and the Civilitas Group, a multi-racial coalition of pastors, university presidents and ministry leaders, hosted the services and issued a nationwide call to churches to racial reconciliation, unity and love.
"The God I love and the God you love, the God I serve and the God you serve, is not black or white. He's nothing in between. He is everything," said Clark, who serves on the Board of Advisors for the Civilitas Group. "We have come to the proverbial table to figure out what's wrong in our churches and nation and what we can do to make it right."
During the service, attendees were led in a time of prayer and remembrance for the victims who lost their lives in the shooting, as well as the victims of the recent Orlando attack. Over 125 faith leaders in attendance committed themselves to fighting the plague of racism in their own congregations and communities.
"I pray that we leave here today with a sense of hope. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice and creative engagement," said Rev. Douglas Birdsall, president and founder of the Civilitas Group. "Our job is not to make America great again, our calling is to make America whole again and be redemptive agents in our society on the issue of race."
Created in the days immediately after the shooting at Mother Emanuel, the Civilitas Group convenedfaith leaders from across the country gathered to discuss how to combat racism and end such hate and violence. The goal of the coalition is to honor the memory of the nine slain by working toward reconciliation.
"On that day, hate met love. Even though hate thought it won, it couldn't," said Marlene Jenkins, sister of Myra Thompson, one of the nine victims. "Because look at what has come out of the tragedy. We are blessed by what the Civilitas Group is doing, and we know that Myra would be pleased with what has happened and is continuing to happen."
Bishop Claude Alexander, senior pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, reminded those in attendance that the wounds of last year's shooting, which go back centuries, are felt deeply with acts of hatred like the massacre in Orlando. "In the midst of our gathering this week, another community was torn by similar tragedy," he said. "The world is looking to what Charleston can teach Orlando. We are called to identify with their brokenness, imagine an alternative reality of community and initiate a response of hope and love."
"We need the kind of conversations that Civilitas is fostering: intentionally diverse, sustained over time and directed at the deepest sources of division in our country and world," said Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today who is one of the signatories of the Call to Action. "This gathering in Charleston is one more step along that path."
Clark concluded the service reflecting that her congregation has come this far by their faith. "At this sacred place, we dared to stare racism in the face," she said. "We have come a long way, to sing together as a choir and to meet as a body of believers not concerned about the color of skin. The purpose of this service is not to make us feel good, but to exercise our faith, to see who we are and Whose we are."
The Civilitas Group is also issuing a National Call to Prayer for Racial Reconciliation on Sunday, June 19. Churches across the nation are encouraged to incorporate Scripture readings, special prayers and other resources into their worship services that morning, which are available for free download at www.civilitasgroup.org.
Additional information about the service at Mother Emanuel AME Church can be found at www.civilitasgroup.org. To sign the After Charleston petition to commit to solidarity and personal leadership in regards to race in America, please visit http://aftercharleston.com/.