Wilton vigil recalls Charleston church tragedy

Nine white candles burned on a spare altar. Nine tolls of the church bell broke the silence.

They were in remembrance of the nine victims of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. on June 17: Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinkney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

An intimate and moving prayer vigil took place Friday evening, June 19, at Wilton Congregational Church. A musical tribute was performed by Quinn Reedy of Wilton, his mother Adrienne Reedy led the participants in hymns, and prayers were offered for:

  • Those whose lives were lost;

  • The families;

  • Emanuel Church and all churches;

  • God’s preferred future for South Carolina;

  • The unity of all people;

  • The healing of the nation.

The prayers were led by Pastor Dave Gish of Hope Church, Father Reggie Norman of Our Lady of Fatima, Pastor Arnold Thomas of Wilton Congregational Church, Pastor Ferdinand Serra of Georgetown United Methodist Church, and Steve Reedy of Wilton. Those who came to reflect and remember offered their prayers as well.

“This gathering reflects the outrage not just of the United States but of the world,” Thomas said. It was an attempt to make sense of a senseless act, he added.

Recalling the deaths of four girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, Thomas said, “there is work to be done where all may live in peace without fear or prejudice.”

One member of Friday evening’s congregation prayed “for those lost, let their lives live on in the hearts of that community and in the hearts of our community.”

“Tonight we are Charleston. We are Emanuel Church,” Serra said. And one participant prayed “for the will to love and not to hate,” and another to be able to find the light “in the darkest time.” Several prayed too, for the young man responsible for the tragedy, who lost his way and “grew up with hatred in his heart.”

Gish characterized the tragedy in Charleston as not “just an ordinary shooting [but] part of a spiritual war we are in” and asked God to “mobilize His church to take His love into the world.

“There are hundreds of people whose hearts are broken tonight,” he said.

“Is this storm over?” Norman asked. “The storm that has run its course throughout our country, our people, our faith? Have we learned anything?”

Pointing out the confederate flag continues to fly at the state capitol, a symbol of racism, he asked South Carolina “to recognize we are all your children. … The purpose of a government is to protect all its children.”

“God is colorblind and so must we be. We must be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.”

At the end of the service, at the tolling of the bells, each participant received a rose which could symbolize the brevity and complexity of life.

The vigil was hosted by Morning Meditations with Sisters in Community, a local prayer group that meets every Wednesday morning in the home of Adrienne Reedy. The group offered thanks to Pamela Brown and Wilton Congregational Church for offering “a safe place to gather in community.”