On the first Sunday after nine people were gunned down and killed last week in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, New Birth Baptist Church Bishop Victor T. Curry begged God for help.
“Father we need you, we need you in a special way,” Curry said Sunday during a prayer service at the Northwest Miami-Dade church. “This nation is reeling. We need divine intervention.”
The countywide call for prayer was honored at several churches. But it was the New Birth Baptist service that drew local leaders including U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan and several other state and municipal officials to show solidarity for those who lost loved ones and to “show that we have a voice,” Wilson said.
“Our community is too silent,” she said to nearly 2,000 worshipers. “We have to express our outrage. We have to let people know that black lives matter.”
Having lived through the Civil Rights movement, Wilson said she couldn’t fathom the hate that motivated Dylann Storm Roof, 21, accused of killing six men and three women — including the church pastor — at a Bible study inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Wednesday.
“I know racism is still alive and well, but I never dreamed that it would raise its head in church,” Wilson said, adding that churches are sanctuaries.
Wilson, Curry and other local leaders who attended Sunday’s service said now is the time to talk about gun control and hate — especially since a Confederate flag continues to fly outside South Carolina’s capitol.
“They say it represents history,” Jordan said before the service. “Then it should be moved to a museum where it belongs.”
In an emotional plea, Curry said the shooting “should have shaken this nation to its core.”
“We do what we have always done, we turn to God in prayer,” he said to a chorus of amens from parishioners who stood side-by-side holding hands. “And we keep praying, and we keep praying and we keep praying and we keep doing what we can do.”
Curry also applauded the victims’ families that have openly forgiven the shooter. “Give us strength, give us wisdom to combat hatred with love,” he said.
Among those who joined Sunday’s service was Rabbi Alan Litwak of Temple Sinai of North Dade .
“Give us strength, give us direction, give us the faith, give us the peace, help us create those,” Litwak said. “You have given us the power. Let us use that power for good. Help us come together as human beings. Strengthen us, God.”
Other South Florida churches also held services of commemoration. At Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ, parishioners prayed for those lives lost and talked about the deeper issues surrounding the shooting.
“Our entire service was centered around what happened in Charleston,” Senior Pastor Laurinda Hafner said. “First and foremost because people were killed in a place of worship, which brings it very close to home for us. When our sanctuary is no longer safe we realize we are vulnerable as people of faith ourselves.”