How to Respond to Charleston?

Our hearts are broken, again, over nine more senseless deaths, and the hate-fueled violence that created this tragedy. It is impossible to speak for “all Friends” on most topics, but in this I am confident we agree: hate-fueled violence is never the solution. Ever.  So how do we respond to these situations? As best as we can, I suppose. We turn to silence, and Spirit to guide us. Below is a moving letter from Charleston Friends Meeting, describing their initial response to last week’s shooting. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

June 21, 2015

Dear Friends,

The Charleston Meeting would like to express our sincere gratitude for the support of our Friends around the nation and around the world.

This morning we were led to hold our meeting for worship on the street outside of our normal meeting place. Together we stood, hand in hand, in silent worship, holding our city in the Light. Initially we planned to stand for the first 15 minutes but time passed and we continued to stand.

Dozens of people passed us on their way to Emmanuel AME church a few blocks away, folding chairs and children in tow. Some stopped for the free water we offered. Some quieted themselves in respect.  Others blessed us and smiled.  Many stopped or slowed down long enough to see that we also held the two page newspaper spread of pictures and biographies of the nine victims, some of whom were our beloved colleagues and friends.

At 10 AM the church bells began to ring around the city. And still we stood, hand in hand in the silence of unity. For me, the experience was simultaneously ordinary and profound.  Like any ordinary First Day meeting, it took a good 20 minutes to settle into the quiet of unified worship, to push past the distractions of thought and physicality to reach a state of peace.  And once there, it was lovely to swim in the serenity of the Light. But today was no ordinary meeting. Today we worshipped out loud on the street. Today we held each other’s hands in solidarity in front of the entire city for all to see.  Awkwardly, self-consciously, with sweat dripping down our back in the 95 degree heat, with people whirling past us, we stood strong in silent worship.

During the hour, while church bells continued to ring, we each sought answers to this tragedy.  We asked ourselves how we got to this place in our country, where violence and hatred are commonplace, where children have guns and murder is yet another opportunity for celebrities to photo op their support.  In the aftermath of such travesty, it is normal to be bitter and angry and yet, during that hour, most of us could only reach immense sadness. It seemed like holding each other gave us permission to be stand in that sadness together and to find comfort in each other.

As we gathered inside for a second hour of fellowship, each of us shared a desire for some action that would address the problems in our society that could cause such a heinous act.  Friends spoke out about gun control, taking down the Confederate flag from our capital, teaching non-violence in our schools, transcending racial tension, donating to the victims’ families, and standing together in peace. And while we agreed that all of these things are good beginnings, it was incredibly clear that each of us knew that none of these things alone would prevent another tragedy.

As one Friend shared, “as long as we fail to see and act on that which is God within ourselves and in each other, hatred will thrive.  As long as we see ourselves as separate from others, hatred will thrive.  As long as our society, our pride, our politics, our media and our wealth continues to divide us, hatred will continue to thrive. As long as we as individuals remain complacent about our own thoughts and actions, hatred will continue to thrive.”

Friends, we ask you for your continued support in helping us become better citizens from the inside out. Help us work on eradicating our own seeds of separation so that we may nurture and become the loving, kind, humans that God created us to be.

If you wish to show your financial support, there are two local funds that we are supporting:

Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund for funeral expenses for the families:
c/o City of Charleston
PO Box 304
Charleston, SC 29402
 Lowcountry Ministries – Reverend Pinckney Fund
c/o Palmetto Project
6296 Rivers Ave #100
North Charleston, SC 29406

We hold all of humanity in the Light,

Trish Bender

Clerk of the Charleston, SC Meeting

Charleston Friends Meeting
c/o Trish Bender, Clerk
2171 Welch Ave
Charleston, SC 29412
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