The tragicshooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church occupied the minds and hearts of churches across New York City on Sunday, as preachers, congregants and members said faith would guide their community and the nation forward.
At churches in all five boroughs, members dedicated their prayers, songs and thoughts to the nine murdered victims, their families and all those impacted by the violence in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We’re sending the message through our grapevine of prayers that we are here for them,” said Herbert Daughtry Sr., the pastor of the The House of the Lord church in Brooklyn.
Daughtry’s services featured hymns and readings from scripture. He quoted passages from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech after the 1963 bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four girls.
The pastor said the community would rebound from the tragedy.
“Once you strike down the center … we come back stronger than ever,” he said to cheers.
At the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, hundreds of congregants arrived for the morning services with a heavy heart.
Rod Gardener, of Harlem, came to service with his wife and daughter and said he ran out of adjectives to describe his shock over the violence, seeking solace with his fellow mourning church members.
“It’s just about having compassion for humanity,” he said yesterday.
Calvin Butts, Abyssinian’s pastor, praised Clementa Pinckney, the pastor at Mother Emanuel, for his work with the community and hailed the relatives of the victims who forgave the suspected gunman Dylann Roof during his first court appearance Friday.
“When you forgive you shake the feathers that bind you and keep you from working for justice. They did the right thing,” he said.
Butts also thanked the leaders from other religious institutions, such as Temple Emanu-El — a synagogue on 65th Street — for their support
Marlene Yokel, a member of the temple, came to the mass to show New Yorkers of all faiths stand by Charleston.
“I feel fortunate to be able to be in this congregation — it is a privilege,” she said.
The city’s elected officials also showed their support Sunday. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito attended the services at St. Albans Congregational Church, where she pushed for stricter gun control and the removal of the Confederate flag from the state capitol building in South Carolina.
“That flag, which symbolizes slavery, oppression and hate needs to come down once and for all — period,” she said.
U.S. Sen Charles Schumer and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attended a vigil at the Canaan Baptist Church of Christ in Harlem later in the afternoon along with other clergy leaders.
David Nolan, the pastor of the St. Joseph and the Holy Family, also agreed with his fellow religious leaders that their fight for peace cannot stop.
“I hope our hearts can be filled with spirit as we look past this storm,” he said.