Beacon Street Diary blog

Congregationalists respond to Charleston shootings

Charleston came together after the shootings at Mother Emanuel. "There was really a sense of unity and camaraderie," said Matthew Lewellyn, Circular Congregational Church's youth minister at the time of the shootings. "Maybe people were so tired of being angry and the anger transformed into this need for unity," he said. Louise Turrentine is the congregation president at Circular Congregational. "I'm very glad that we've handled this without violence. Circular has been a very strong voice in that," she says. The violence in Charleston affected people differently, explains Louise. "For some people the response was a call to grieve, and for some it was a call to action."

American Congregationalists have been the vanguard of racial justice issues in the since Samuel Sewall published New England's first abolitionist pamphlet in 1700. In the wake of the shootings in Charleston and the eight fires at African-American churches in the last month: seven in the south and one in Ohio, Congregationalists are once again demonstrating their support by raising money for the nine devastated churches. The United Church of Christ has earmarked its 'Emergency USA' fund.

"The first Sunday after everything happened, our attendance was through the roof. We had to roll up the doors, put up extra chairs, it filled up the fellowship hall, and there were people sitting in the choir loft upstairs. We took that moment and collected a special offering for Mother Emanuel." That offering was the largest Louise has ever seen the church collect.

"Within all the hate and violence, there are these small stories of love," said Rev. Lewellyn.

Another small story of love is unfolding within the Congregational community. Last week, the Circular Congregational received a shipment of origami paper cranes. "We received a beautiful letter about the history of these cranes," said Louise. The letter explained that the cranes have passed through UCC churches in communities marred by tragedy, offering solace to grieving congregations in Newtown, Connecticut; Boston's Old South Church; Ferguson, Missouri; Everett, Washington, and now Charleston. "As I was reading the letter to our congregation, I just saw eyes widening in surprise at the long list of places these cranes had been, widening in a real shock of how many places have been. Now, unfortunately, we have them," said Louise.

Members of Circular Congregational have worked alongside traditionally black churches in Charleston since the shooting. They have participated in vigils and memorial services, and were very active in the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds.

The Congregational Library & Archives contains many records of Congregationalists seeking peace and justice. The upcoming issue of the Bulletin features several stories of Congregationalists in the abolition movement. Get your copy of the Bulletin by becoming a member of the Congregational Library & Archives.

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