Churches Gather for Prayer, Unity After Charleston Man Shot By Police Officer

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This originally appeared in the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate by Jessica Brodie. Reprinted with permission.

NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina—United Methodist churches in South Carolina’s Lowcountry are calling for peace, advocacy, and prayerful healing after a police shooting left an unarmed Charleston man dead.

North Charleston Officer Michael T. Slager has been charged with murder after a video April 4 shows him fatally shooting Walter Scott, 50, several times in the back after an altercation during a traffic stop. In the video, Scott, a black man, and Slager, a white man, appear to be struggling over a Taser, which was knocked to the ground. Scott was shot after he turned and fled. He died at the scene—the latest in a string of high-profile police shootings in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere.

‘Pathway to healing’

A week after the shooting, churches and community members gathered at the site of Scott’s death for a one-mile prayer pilgrimage in the rain to Aldersgate UMC, where United Methodist leaders and others sang songs, lifted up the Lord and urged all present to embrace a spirit of love and unity as they struggled to respond to the tragedy.

Community members walked alongside clergy, many in black robes and clerical collars, from the grassy patch of land where Scott was shot, down busy Remount Road, and across the street to Aldersgate. There they were greeted by the rhythm of the Trinitarian Heartbeat, a triple beat played on a marching drum that is meant to reflect a combination of a heartbeat sound and the Holy Trinity. Attendees sang hymns like “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord” and “He Is Able” as the rain passed them by and the evening took hold.

“What has happened in our community is tragic and hurtful,” said Bishop Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the UMC, to the crowd of more than 100, including children. “But when we come together, we find the pathway to healing.”

Holston urged those present to engage in critical self-examination as they move forward in grief, and particularly to lift up three goals as people of faith: witness, advocacy, and prayer.

“We are called to witness not only as faithful disciples, but to witness to the world the injustices we see and experience,” Holston told the crowd. “We are called to be advocates. Each of us has the responsibility to serve as advocates for our beliefs and, in this particular context, to clearly be advocates opposed to racism in any form and in firm opposition to gun violence. We are called to pray. Prayer is powerful. Much healing is needed in North Charleston, in South Carolina and in our world, and praying together for understanding, forgiveness and peace is the pathway to healing.”

‘Not just a Charleston problem’

The prayer pilgrimage and service were organized by the Charleston District of the UMC, the eight North Charleston UMCs comprising the North Hope Cooperative Ministry and the Connectional Ministries Advocacy Team.

Cars and trucks passing by screeched tires and beeped horns as the service progressed with hand-clapping and bowed heads. Some attendees wiped away tears as they gathered while others nodded their heads or stood quietly.

One of the attendees, Robin Speights, said she thinks the pilgrimage and service were a good way for the church to point the way to healing.

“It’s not just a Remount Road problem or a Charleston problem but a United States problem,” she said. “We all serve the same God, and it’s important to get together after things like this and have some unity.”

Attendee Derrick Horres said the service is a strong show of dignity, respect, and cooperation, pointing the way for all work together.

“It’s all about healing, and we can’t heal things on the national level, but on the local level, we can come together and take care of each other,” Horres said. “How the community responds to things like this says how the community will develop long-term.”

‘Whenever one suffers, all suffer’

In one of many clergy prayers lifted before the crowd, the Rev. Genova McFadden said that while there is much hurting and sorrow, in Jesus Christ all are one. She called the site of the prayer service “holy ground” for just that reason.

“We are here earnestly and fervently praying for healing, here seeking comfort and solace,” McFadden said as murmurs and amens echoed. “We know a clarion call has been issued. We have the opportunity to walk for peace in this community, and we are saying, ‘Yes, we will go.’”

The Rev. William Wrighten called on those present to pray for healing and hope, not just today but far into the future.

“At times like this, it’s easy to question God: why did this happen?” Wrighten said. Instead, he said, “Let us lean together and join our hands and our hearts.”

Holston said people of faith are called to work together in churches and communities to break down the dividing walls of hostility between individuals and groups in their midst. Whenever one suffers, all suffer. And without justice for all, there is no justice.

“An ending is always a new beginning for something else,” Holston said as the event wrapped to a close. “As we leave here, you must ask yourself: What will I do to make a difference personally?”

All are invited to join the South Carolina Conference and the Charleston District in continued prayer for the community and for the families of those whose lives were lost or destroyed in the tragedy.

The eight churches in the North Hope Cooperative Ministry are Aldersgate, Cherokee Place, Cokesbury, Enoch Chapel, Midland Park, New Francis Brown, North Charleston and Washington UMCs, North Charleston.

Jessica Brodie, Editor the South Carolina United Methodist AdvocateThis originally appeared in the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate. Reprinted with permission.

Jessica Brodie is the Editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate paper. Jessica is also a fiction novelist. You can find more of her work at her website. She can also found on Twitter @JessicaJConnor.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Wes AndrewsPaul W.George Nixon ShulerRichard Hicks Recent comment authors
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Richard Hicks
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Carefully scripted street performance art. The only thing missing was giant puppets. Even in this city most of the population has no connection to any house of worship. The Nones are the ones who need to be offered inclusion in the circle of Jesus. These folks are to be found at the dollar stores, the bar, the strip joints, and WalMart on Sunday mornings. The Nones are not concerned with carefully crafted scripts where all of the officially included are included. Did you ever notice that Jesus never held a committee meeting or a focus group in the Gospels? Thank… Read more »

George Nixon Shuler
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Richard, I love your comments even though at times I am not certain of your points. In this case however, your point is well-taken. Thank you.

Paul W.
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Paul W.

When I first read this article, I didn’t have much reaction other than that it’s good to see the UMC responding to this tragedy. Your comment though cuts to the marrow: What should a Christian response look like to truly impact the hurting and reach the lost? More importantly, we know that it is the most important task we have, but who is actually willing to step up and make it happen? This is what early Methodism focused on, and why it was blessed, but today, we, including myself, are mostly cowards.

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

I would like to see people protest at the level of the destruction that exists with black on black violence. Not in exclusion to this protest but at the appropriate proportion. It seems to me that some in the UMC have just simply become pawns to the progressive political agenda…

George Nixon Shuler
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More like bishops, with diagonal moves and all.

George Nixon Shuler
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Dude, stop trolling me. I’m married and not interested.

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

Russ, you deserve an answer to a simple and respectful question, but that is NOT likely…

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