One by one, people took the pulpit at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond Hill to do the one thing they all could for the people of Charleston, South Carolina — pray.
Gathering from churches throughout Bryan County, they prayed Thursday evening for the families of the nine people killed in the massacre the night before at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church. They prayed for the three people who survived the shooting. They prayed for Charleston’s government officials, law-enforcement officers and church leaders.
They even prayed for the man allegedly responsible for the tragedy, suspected gunman Dylann Roof.
Roof was charged Friday with nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Media outlets have reported that Roof confessed to the killings.
“Oftentimes, we’ve had to question why God would allow these things to happen,” said Daniel Boyd, pastor of Emmanuel Christian Church in Richmond Hill. “And that’s a question that you cannot answer. But the only thing I can say is that God will give you peace.”
The church resounded with music and singing to begin the program, but fell quiet moments later. A moment of silence followed Calvary Missionary Baptist Minister Shelia Payne speaking the names of the nine people killed in the shooting, who ranged in age from 26 to 87.
“In times like these, we need prayer,” Payne said. “The Bible says that we should pray without ceasing, that we should intercede on behalf of others.”
The nine people fatally shot during a Bible study included Emanuel AME’s pastor, South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41. Pinckney was an ordained minister at 18 years old, became the youngest member of the South Carolina House at 23 and had served in the Senate since 2000.
Monica Jackson of Victory Full Gospel prayed specifically for Pinckney’s family. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and their two young daughters.
“They’re so young, they don’t understand, God,” Jackson said, “but strengthen them.”
Anita Parham gave a prayer for the other eight victims’ families. They are coping not only with the loss of their loved ones, but also the shock that their deaths occurred within the sacred grounds of a church.
“In a place we felt we were most safe, havoc came,” Parham said. “Let us not fear going back to church, oh God. It is a place we need to go.”
While different groups of people were the focus of each prayer, the plea for healing and forgiveness was the same. The church leaders implored for people to join in peace rather than to respond to Roof’s deadly actions with more violence.
“We know that joy will come again,” New Life Church Pastor Ryan Ogden said. “Let us remember that we don’t overcome evil with evil; we overcome evil with good.”
That is why the prayers for all the people suffering were followed by a prayer for the man who caused it. A few hours prior to the vigil, Roof was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, about 250 miles from Charleston.
Frieda Clark prayed that Roof would allow God to “touch his mind and heart.” She also prayed for Roof’s family “because they, too, are hurting.”
“We pray for Dylann, oh God, even in his disobedience to your word,” Clark said. “Even in that, Lord God, we know that you desire that he be saved … that there is a victory in the end.”
Calvary Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Stanford Anderson called Payne on Thursday morning about organizing a prayer vigil after “God had spoken to his heart,” she said. Many phone calls and emails with local churches followed throughout the day.
“There is a great spiritual power when believers come together in unity with a purpose,” Payne said.
The program concluded with everyone joining hands in a loop that stretched from the front of the church to the back it. After the Rev. William Jackson of Victory Full Gospel gave a closing prayer, the group sang “We Shall Overcome” in unison.
“Even in the midst of this tragedy, we are still commanded to bless the Lord at all times,” Boyd said. “There’s a strength in God’s peace. We just want tonight to ask the Lord to release his peace upon us.”