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Stories from the Road:  A Visit to Emanuel AME Church

The following is a post I wrote for Facebook after a visit to Emanuel AME  in May 2019. I share it on the seventh anniversary of the senseless murder of the Emanuel 9

"Is this the church," an older African-American woman asked me.

"I'm sorry," I replied, not hearing her question clearly.

"Is this the church that had the shooting," she clarified.

"Yes," I responded. "I believe it is."

And we both peered through the bars of the locked gates on a Saturday afternoon.

Through the gates, as well as on the facade of the church, were markers and monuments of a proud past.

According to the historical marker, Emanuel AME church is among the oldest black congregations south of Baltimore. It is the oldest AME church in the South. It is the "Mother Church".

It was the place where slave revolts were organized. A place that was closed down in 1834 in response to the Nat Turner rebellion. All-black churches were forbidden in Charleston until it reopened in 1865. (They met in secret anyway).

An earthquake in 1886 destroyed their building and it was rebuilt on the current site in 1891, with President Cleveland donating $10 to the cause.

Booker T Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there. Organization movements for voting rights were held here in the 1960s. Throughout the church's history, pastors were threatened, they and members were arrested.

It has a proud history. Yet, this… This, the Mother Church, is the church where the shooting happened. This is what it is known for.

As I stayed and took pictures, car after car stopped and its passengers got out to look, to see the place where such despicable evil happened in 2015. If you didn't know the name, you'd have a hard time believing such a horrible event could take place here. It is a street that looks as normal and unassuming as any other you'd come across.

Emanuel AME still meets and proclaims Christ risen, as the white-linen draped cross stands in the front yard of the church as a reminder of that hope.

It is the same hope which is still celebrated and proclaimed in places such as Charleston and Birmingham, AL and Sutherland Springs, Texas and Sri Lanka and wherever evil seeks to create havoc. For what hate and evil seeks to destroy, love - God's love for a discordant world - brings hope and light and life.

As the marker remembering the Emanuel 9 says, "Love is stronger than hate."

As it has done so for 204 years, Emanuel AME still meets on Sunday. It still has its Wednesday night Bible study, just as they did on that night when nine lives were cut short.

Yes, this is the church were the shooting took place. But it is a breathing, vibrant church, just as it was it 1818 and 1865 and 1886 and 1902 and 1968 and 2015. Indeed, the gates of hell will not prevail here, or anywhere.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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