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Richmonders show unity, seek healing at area vigils

Joey Matthews | 6/26/2015, 11:26 p.m.
More than 200 people from Richmond and beyond packed the sanctuary floor and balcony last Friday evening at Third Street ...
Worshippers sing “We Shall Overcome” at the unity rally at Third Street Bethel AME Church in Downtown last Friday to honor the South Carolina shooting victims Photo by Sandra Sellars

People gather Monday in Chimborazo Park in the East End to participate in a prayer vigil for the nine people who were murdered in Charleston, S.C.

People gather Monday in Chimborazo Park in the East End to participate in a prayer vigil for the nine people who were murdered in Charleston, S.C.

More than 200 people from Richmond and beyond packed the sanctuary floor and balcony last Friday evening at Third Street Bethel AME Church in Downtown at a unity rally to honor the South Carolina shooting victims.

At one point, they stood side by side — black and white, young and old — singing “We Shall Overcome” as they held hands lifted upward, swaying from side to side, to convey the message that love is stronger than hate.

They gathered in the wake of the June 17 killings of nine African-American worshippers during a Bible study at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston S.C., by a lone white gunman.

“Even though evil had its way, evil will not win,” declared the Rev. Reuben Boyd, pastor at Third Street Bethel.

The unity service was one of a half-dozen vigils held around Richmond following the shooting.

On Monday, a group of pastors coordinated simultaneous unity vigils at four sites throughout the city. Remembrance services were held at First African Baptist Church on North Side, First Union Baptist Church on South Side, Second Baptist Church in the Randolph community and in Chimborazo Park in the East End.

Second Baptist Church also hosted a vigil last Thursday to remember the Charleston victims.

Absia Bara of Henrico County attended the unity vigil at Third Street Bethel, where pastors from various religious denominations participated in the hourlong service.

“My heart goes out to the people in South Carolina,” she said. “It’s like a part of me is aching inside. I wanted to come out and touch hands with my brothers and sisters and heal this aching that’s inside me.”

Interim Minister Walker Clark and 26 other members of First Unitarian Universalist Church in the West End arrived early wearing yellow shirts that read: “Standing on the Side of Love.”

“Our congregation has created a pledge to fight against racism in Richmond,” Minister Clark said. “We wanted to show support not only for the AME community, but for the black community in general. It’s absolutely tragic” for Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who has been charged in the massacre, “to be so polluted by hatred of another race.”

Rev. Boyd spoke of how the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the South Carolina church, and his congregation welcomed Mr. Roof — a complete stranger — into their Bible study with open arms.

“Pastor Pinckney and his flock did what any people of love would do, and the evil force of hatred and racism came in and abused it,” Rev. Boyd said.

“In their love, they died following the greatest commandment of God. They died loving their brother.”

The Rev. Robert Brownell of St. Peter Catholic Church in Downtown, vowed, “We will not allow it to reduce us to despair. We weep, but that doesn’t end there. That has to power us to go forward, for people to reach out and hold hands.”

In a prayer for unity, the Rev. Kathryn Lester-Bacon, associate pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, asked God “to show us that violence and hatred will not have the final word.”