By Jessica Brodie
NORTH CHARLESTON, South Carolina—United Methodist churches in South Carolina’s Lowcountry are calling for peace, advocacy and prayerful healing after a police shooting left an unarmed Charleston man dead.
North Charleston Officer Michael T. Slager has been charged with murder after a video April 4 shows him fatally shooting Walter Scott, 50, several times in the back after an altercation during a traffic stop. In the video, Scott, a black man, and Slager, a white man, appear to be struggling over a Taser, which was knocked to the ground. Scott was shot after he turned and fled. He died at the scene—the latest in a string of high-profile police shootings in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland and elsewhere.
‘Pathway to healing’
A week after the shooting, churches and community members gathered at the site of Scott’s death for a one-mile prayer pilgrimage in the rain to Aldersgate UMC, where United Methodist leaders and others sang songs, lifted up the Lord and urged all present to embrace a spirit of love and unity as they struggled to respond to the tragedy.
Community members walked alongside clergy, many in black robes and clerical collars, from the grassy patch of land were Scott was shot, down busy Remount Road, and across the street to Aldersgate. There they were greeted by the rhythm of the Trinitarian Heartbeat, a triple beat played on a marching drum that is meant to reflect a combination of a heartbeat sound and the Holy Trinity. Attendees sang hymns like “I’m a Soldier in the Army of the Lord” and “He Is Able” as the rain passed them by and the evening took hold.
“What has happened in our community is tragic and hurtful,” said Bishop Jonathan Holston, resident bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the UMC, to the crowd of more than 100, including children. “But when we come together, we find the pathway to healing.”
Holston urged those present to engage in critical self-examination as they move forward in grief, and particularly to lift up three goals as people of faith: witness, advocacy and prayer.
“We are called to witness not only as faithful disciples, but to witness to the world the injustices we see and experience,” Holston told the crowd. “We are called to be advocates. Each of us has the responsibility to serve as advocates for our beliefs and, in this particular context, to clearly be advocates opposed to racism in any form and in firm opposition to gun violence. We are called to pray. Prayer is powerful. Much healing is needed in North Charleston, in South Carolina and in our world, and praying together for understanding, forgiveness and peace is the pathway to healing.”
‘Not just a Charleston problem’
The prayer pilgrimage and service were organized by the Charleston District of the UMC, the eight North Charleston UMCs comprising the North Hope Cooperative Ministry and the Connectional Ministries Advocacy Team.
Cars and trucks passing by screeched tires and beeped horns as the service progressed with hand-clapping and bowed heads. Some attendees wiped away tears as they gathered, while others nodded their heads or stood quietly.
One of the attendees, Robin Speights, said she thinks the pilgrimage and service were a good way for the church to point the way to healing.
“It’s not just a Remount Road problem or a Charleston problem but a United States problem,” she said. “We all serve the same God, and it’s important to get together after things like this and have some unity.”
Attendee Derrick Horres said the service is a strong show of dignity, respect and cooperation, pointing the way for all work together.
“It’s all about healing, and we can’t heal things on the national level, but on the local level, we can come together and take care of each other,” Horres said. “How the community responds to things like this says how the community will develop long-term.”
‘Whenever one suffers, all suffer’
In one of many clergy prayers lifted before the crowd, the Rev. Genova McFadden said that while there is much hurting and sorrow, in Jesus Christ all are one. She called the site of the prayer service “holy ground” for just that reason.
“We are here earnestly and fervently praying for healing, here seeking comfort and solace,” McFadden said as murmurs and amens echoed. “We know a clarion call has been issued. We have the opportunity to walk for peace in this community, and we are saying, ‘Yes, we will go.’”
The Rev. William Wrighten called on those present to pray for healing and hope, not just today but far into the future.
“At times like this, it’s easy to question God: why did this happen?” Wrighten said. Instead, he said, “Let us lean together and join our hands and our hearts.”
Holston said people of faith are called to work together in churches and communities to break down the dividing walls of hostility between individuals and groups in their midst. Whenever one suffers, all suffer. And without justice for all, there is no justice.
“An ending is always a new beginning for something else,” Holston said as the event wrapped to a close. “As we leave here, you must ask yourself: What will I do to make a difference personally?”
All are invited to join the South Carolina Conference and the Charleston District in continued prayer for the community and for the families of those whose lives were lost or destroyed in the tragedy.
The eight churches in the North Hope Cooperative Ministry are Aldersgate, Cherokee Place, Cokesbury, Enoch Chapel, Midland Park, New Francis Brown, North Charleston and Washington UMCs, North Charleston.