A Bittersweet Day in Charleston

Rev. June Boutwell
Designated Conference Minister

June 23, 2015

circular-churchAs I was preparing to leave to attend the Southern Conference Annual meeting, I heard the news of a shooting in a church in Charleston. I immediately sent a message to Reverend Jeremy Rutledge, pastor of Circular Congregational UCC. I knew that the Charleston faith community was a group that intentionally engaged in mutual ministry for the welfare of the city.

As I drove to Greensboro, North Carolina, I heard the updates of the news reports. When I arrived at the meeting I discovered that a colleague who serves on national staff, Waltrina Middleton, had a cousin who was among the dead. It was announced that a pastor in the Southern Conference also had a family member who died in that holy place.

I talked to Jeremy who had been on a civil rights bus tour with other religious leaders. Three from Charleston immediately flew back to be with their churches — Jeremy, the rabbi, and the pastor of Missionary Baptist. When I talked to Jeremy he had just returned from a prayer vigil. We made plans for me to be in worship with Circular on Sunday, June 21.  He invited me to offer the prayers for the day.

It was a bittersweet day for Circular. We were given black and purple ribbons to wear. We sat in silence and prayer as over eighty churches in Charleston rang their bells at 10:00 a.m. at the time worship was beginning at Emanuel. The pealing of the bells and the music in worship was suited to the somber feel of the day. Yet, it was also a day when a baby was baptized and eleven new members joined the church. And the music was also suited to words of hope and promise. It was a perfect reflection of the sometimes incongruous happenings of life.  Sorrow and shock that such horror could occur on holy ground.  Joy in celebrating new life and commitment to Christian faith. As the new members signed the membership book, I couldn’t help but think of the names being inscribed in the book of life as the faithful servants of Mother Emanuel AME crossed into glory.

As I depart for General Synod to join our eight Southeast Conference delegates which includes Rev. Rutledge, I am working with a small group to draft a resolution to bring before the Synod delegates in response to the shootings in Charleston. The echoes of this act of violence will echo long as we reflect on the ideological hatred instilled in a young mind and the unconditional welcome we are called to offer as children of a loving God.