The Rev. Dr. Anthony Reed approached churchgoers who were sitting outside of Martin Memorial A.M.E. Church on Thursday night.
“Be strong, be strong,” said Reed, the church’s 38-year-old pastor, who grew up in Charleston, the South Carolina city where nine people were murdered Wednesday night as they read the Bible in one of the most historic black churches in the South, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
As a vigil began at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of Martin Memorial in Richmond Heights, nine white candles were lit.
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“We come tonight to lift up prayers on behalf of nine souls, nine lives, nine persons, who found refuge at the house of God but whose safety and sanctity was violated,” Reed said.
Among those killed was the pastor of Emanuel, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, a Democratic state senator who was one of Reed’s close friends.
“We grew up together and were part of the youth leadership of the church,” Reed said. “We were very close and connected.”
Police have arrested Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old white man who witnesses say sat with church members for an hour before he began shooting.
Reed, who was born and raised in Charleston, said the events have “shaken the very fiber of Charleston.”
“It was becoming a very diverse town, so anyone, whether Caucasian or black, could walk into a church and be accepted,” said Reed, who was ordained as a minister at Emanuel in 1999.
Reed, who frequently returns to his hometown to visit his mother and sister, will head there on Monday to connect with other clergy leaders and pay his respects.
While Reed thinks that crime was “heinous,” he also thinks that something good will come out of the situation.
“Whether it was in 1963 when the fours girls were bombed in the church in [Birmingham], or now, when 13 people are praying in a Charleston church … I think that this is a great moment to address the issue of hate crimes that have happened across the country.”
Reed hopes the Charleston massacre will result in a greater discussion — and legislation — about the prevalence of guns in American society. Roof’s uncle told Reuters that Roof’s dad had given him a .45-caliber gun for his 21st birthday.
Barbara Nickerson, 74, typically attends Mount Olive Baptist Church in Miami’s Lemon City, but she attended Martin Memorial’s vigil in South Miami-Dade Thursday night.
“We are one in Christ and when one hurts, we all hurt,” Nickerson said. “We used to think that nothing like this could happen in church.”
Reed reassured the more than 40 churchgoers who attended the vigil that while Wednesday’s events challenge everyone’s faith, sometimes “God allows something to happen to wake his people up. Now churches all over the world, and especially in this country, have to pray even harder when we sit in the pews.”