Friends and Neighbors in Christ,

Over the past several weeks, spiritual leaders within our community have met together to prepare a special worship service to be conducted later this week at the Grace AME Church in Beaufort on the first anniversary of the Mother Emmanuel tragedy in Charleston. The purpose of the worship service is to provide an opportunity for people from the various faith communities of Beaufort to respectfully remember the horrific loss of nine innocent lives, to commit ourselves to the way of non-violence, and to “lift up” the work of racial reconciliation. It is noteworthy that in the days that followed the murder of the Charleston 9, the families who mourned responded to the loss of loved ones not with anger and feelings of vengeance but with grace and forgiveness. One deranged man brought death to Charleston with the hope of dividing a city along racial lines. And yet, the people of the Holy City were not divided like the people of Ferguson, Missouri. Instead of runaway emotions and riots in the streets, burning and looting of businesses, and random shootings in the neighborhoods, the city of Charleston, by way of worship services, prayer meetings, and a strong voice from city hall, entertained calls for justice, peace and reconciliation.

As we prayerfully remember the Charleston 9 and the forgiving witness of their respective families, another tragic event has taken place, this time in Orlando, FL as forty nine people are shot and killed at random in a crowded and popular gay nightclub, and another fifty three people recover from serious wounds both physical and emotional. It has been reported that the man who perpetrated the crime was converted to the way of radical Islam by way of the Internet and on the night of his violent rampage affirmed his allegiance to ISIS.

At the stated Session Council meeting on June 13, we as leaders and servants of the church began our time together with a responsive reading from Psalm 34 (The face of the Lord is against those who do evil; and he is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.) We shared a reading from Romans 12:9-21 (Love must be genuine) and read a few words from Henri Nouwen and Shirley Guthrie as they challenge us “to respond to calamities with an articulate faith in God’s real presence” and “to continue the struggle for the rule of God’s love and justice in a godless and forsaken world.” What happened in Orlando early Sunday morning also challenges us as Christians in terms of how we relate to the LGBT community and people of the Muslim faith. What we think, what we say, and how we act matters.

As members of the Session Council, along with your pastoral and program staff, prepared for the work and business at hand, we lifted our hearts in the following prayer:

“Almighty God, One in Three, and Three in One, you have given us as a people of faith, a mind and intellect to think and ponder, to seek depth and understanding. As we gather this evening in the spirit of Christian community, we pray for the families and congregation of Mother Emmanuel, and we pray for the community of Orlando, as families mourn loved ones, and a city seeks the grace of healing. Prejudice and violence continues to punctuate the human condition. As we seek to follow Christ in a time marked by anger and anxiety may we hold tight to the apostolic witness of the early church . . . Love must be sincere, even though it may be hard and difficult. We are to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. As we look to the days ahead, help us to trust and obey the demands of the gospel, and follow Jesus with a full measure of confidence and Christian hope. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.”

May the Lord Jesus be with the congregation and families of Mother Emmanuel, the families and citizens of Orlando, and the body of Christ as we join the struggle for victories over evil that are possible now in the world, the church, and our individual lives. (Declaration of Faith, Chapter 10.5) Amen.

Peace and Grace,

+ Pastor Steve