Last night I attended a prayer vigil for the victims and families of the Charleston church shooting. It was held at their sister church, Payne Chapel AME Church in Colorado Springs. The house was packed; every seat was taken, with some folks standing along the back walls. It was a simple service, beginning with a Prayer of Forgiveness, followed by the choir singing of God’s mercy and grace, then a Prayer for Healing, then two sections titled, simply, Expressions, interspersed with Gospel music, and finally, ending with a Prayer for Hope.
During these two parts of Expressions, the leaders of the service spoke and then invited other ministers, church leaders, community leaders to come forward and speak as well.
I hadn’t planned on speaking, I was casually dressed, but I felt like I was answering an altar call to go up and testify; so I did. I introduced myself as the minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and then said something along these lines (it was extemporaneous, so I’m sure I’m not getting it 100% right :)
“I’m on sabbatical this summer. Unfortunately, violence doesn’t take sabbaticals; racism doesn’t take sabbaticals; hatred never takes a break. There is never a day when they shutter their windows and put a closed sign on their front door.
But here’s the other thing: Forgiveness never takes a sabbatical, either. Love never takes a sabbatical. Grace is always hanging around.
That is why I’m so honored to be here with all of you tonight. That is what we’re experiencing here tonight. And it is what the congregation of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston is experiencing tonight, even in the midst of their pain and anguish. Emanuel AME has a rich tradition of speaking and acting out for justice and being attacked and destroyed for it; they have always risen from the ashes of despair and they will do so this time, as well
And I want to pledge to you tonight that All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church will never take a sabbatical when it comes to standing with you in the struggle; we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you; we will be your allies in the face of hate and violence; we will not grow weary in the work of love.”
I sat down then, and others spoke. As I looked at the crowd of people gathered, as I listened to the choir sing, “God is good all the time; all the time, God is good,” I felt such a profound sense of solidarity, of community. There we were, people of all races, ages, faith traditions trying to make some sense of another senseless tragedy, and yet, it was not despair or defeat or the pervasive sadness I wrote about yesterday, that filled the chapel last night; it was, indeed, the never-resting spirit of forgiveness and grace and love. We joined together, hundreds of people, to say, we are not broken down, we are lifted up in our faith—whether in God, or Love, or the Power of Humanity to one day rise above, and we will not let the hatred of this world ever overshadow the Love that sets us free, that calls us into wholeness, that gives birth to grace and forgiveness and hope.
At the end of the service, the choir sang one last song, before Rev. Arthur B. Carter, Jr., the minister of Payne Chapel AME sent us off with words of hope. The praise and worship song, written by Hezekiah Walker, summed up perfectly, the simple truth of our lives, the interdependent nature of this web of existence, of which we are a part, and the solid truth that we need each other.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll reflect on forgiveness, grace, love. For now, I’ll leave you with this:
(The audio for this was recorded live from the Prayer Vigil in Colorado Springs. For a clean version of the song, check out this link)