By LINDA M. LINONIS
About 100 religious and Valley leaders and community residents gathered Monday at Reeds Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church to pray for the nine victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
Themes of healing, love, compassion, forgiveness and racial reconciliation were woven throughout the morning service that also focused on the victims’ families, the historic city and the state.
The community interfaith prayer and memorial service was arranged by the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Youngstown and Vicinity and the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches.
The Rev. Dr. Lewis Macklin, IMA president, welcomed those gathered at the church at 1939 Jacobs Road. “This is domestic terrorism on the open doors of the church and God’s people,” he said. “There must be an individual and collective resolve of strength, courage and conviction,” the minister said of churches, mosques and temples that could be targets of violence.
The Rev. Gwendolyn Johnson, Reeds Chapel pastor, said the 94-year-old AME church is a “pillar in the community” and welcomed those in attendance.
Bishop George Murry of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown reflected on how the families of victims “forgave in the face of tragedy” and noted “there is strength in forgiveness.”
The bishop urged people of faith to “have courage in the face of tragedy.” He continued that “this is an opportunity of grace.”
“We must love and have the courage to love and speak in the face of hatred, which takes courage,” Bishop Murry said.
Mayor John A. McNally said, “In a moment, the Charleston church, the city, state and country changed.”
He said an incident like that in Youngstown also would “change the community.” “We hope the incident in South Carolina changes the way we treat one another,” the mayor said.
He added that IMA, MVAC and CIRV (Community Initiative to Reduce Violence) work to improve the community. And, McNally said, the community police project that will begin next week in the city will work with people of “all colors, creeds and incomes.”
“When you see someone in need, reach out,” the mayor said, adding caution that everyone must keep themselves safe.
Micah Smith, Savannah Sockwell and Alicia Reed, youths from Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past, read the names of the shooting victims and lighted candles in their memory.
Rabbi Saul Oresky of Congregation Ohev Tzedek-Shaarei Torah in Boardman offered Psalm 103, noting God’s compassion. The Rev. Jerry Krueger, pastor of Trinity United Methodist and Richard Brown UM Churches, reflected on love and how it comes from God.
The Rev. Robin Woodberry, executive director of MVAC and assistant pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church, focused on forgiveness from Ephesians 4:31-22 – “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” She noted forgiveness is part of spiritual growth.
The new pastor of St. Andrewes AME Church, the Rev. Brandon A.A.J. Davis, a friend of the slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also was a state senator, asked God to “give us peace.” He noted that “life is fleeting” and response to the shooting should be “Christian maturity.”
“We want the walls of segregation to be torn down and racism finds its place in hell,” he said. “We must love one another and respect one another by accepting the differences.”
Pastor Davis said he hoped the families of the victims will “feel our love, care and compassion.”
The Rev. Jim Ray, a retired minister, emphasized that “all lives matter. God made a diverse creation and people.”
He issued a “call to action” to have “God’s power work through us. ... We must reach out to those who are different from ourselves and draw from God what we want to be and can be.”
The Rev. Kenneth Simon, pastor of New Bethel Baptist, asked participants “to put their hands to healing wounded hearts.”
The Rev. Gena Thornton, a retired pastor, offered the closing prayer and noted that “doors of churches are still open and doors of our hearts are open.”
“Walk in truth and act on it,” she urged those attending.