Our Visit to Mother Emanuel AME Church
Our abiding gratitude goes to Gordon20024 for underwriting our trip to Charleston this past weekend — thank you, Archie!
Ann and I made a flying visit to Charleston, SC this past week. A lot of things did not go to plan — but we did get to see Gordon20024 (Archie) and The Marti for a little while on Friday. Archie picked us up at the airport and took us to see Marti at her home (where we also met the kitties). Unfortunately, an urgent phone call meant that he needed to turn around and go home right away. He got us checked into a hotel before he had to go.
On Saturday, we met with the Emanuel Church’s historian, Liz Alston. We had mailed the star quilt to her some weeks before and she asked us to present it to the minister at Sunday services. But Saturday, she kindly offered to give us a tour of the church. It happened to be open that morning as the sanctuary was being decorated for a wedding that would take place later that day.
It is indeed a beautiful church, full of fine wood work that wears its age with great spirit and warmth. The stained glass is gorgeous, with soft, subtle colors that could probably never be duplicated today. Most of all, I was left with a feeling — there is something in the place that fills the heart with peace and hope. The whole building resonates with years and years of prayer, song, and fellowship and all that is holy.
When we stepped outside, after the tour, a white family stopped Liz and asked if she was a member of the church. When she told them she was, they hugged her. They said they were visiting from Tennessee and were so, so sorry for what had happened. When they went on their way, Liz turned to us and said, “This happens all the time, now.” People of all colors, people from everywhere come to pay respects at Mother Emanuel. And now we were fortunate enough to be among them. As Dawn Turner wrote in the Chicago Tribune in the aftermath of the shooting,
Before the shooting, the historic church had struggled to fill its seats. Since the shooting, the pews have been overflowing with folks such as me who come believing they're checking in on parishioners' healing, but actually are there in part to take stock of their own.
It is a good thing. To paraphrase the words of my good friend, Marti, this church is the spiritual home of strong people who have demonstrated to the whole country what grace and forgiveness really mean. In this time when brutal forces of intolerance have been emboldened, the Love that is at Mother Emanuel is a much needed medicine, nationwide. It is a very holy place and it will surely endure.
The people from Tennessee? We think we saw them attending service the very next day… They came back.
I will remember the Sunday church service at Mother Emanuel all my life. It happened to be “Youth Sunday” and the church was celebrating the high school graduation of a number of young people. They progressed through the aisles in their caps and gowns, carrying roses which were given to their mothers along the way. In fact, when all the young people were at the altar, Pastor Manning had their parents and grandparents stand behind them. Each and every one of them was going into the world to fulfill their dreams, knowing that they had the loving support of their families, the congregation of Mother Emanuel, and strong faith. It was a perfect and beautiful rite of passage.
After performances by the church choir, a choir of children, and a dance performance by children, we were brought forward to present the star quilt. The pastor told the people that it had messages from all over the country and that we had traveled from Portland, OR to give it to the church. As the quilt was held up, the people in the the pews gasped. As it was turned, to show the African fabric on the back, there was a collective sigh. I told everyone that most of the messages had come from the Daily Kos community and were expressions of love, sympathy, and most of all, gratitude to them for their example to us all, for their grace.
As Ann and I went back to our seats, person after person took our hands and thanked us, told us it was so appreciated that we had done this for them, all the time and effort we had put into it and the fact that we had come across the country to give it to them personally . I couldn’t help crying and thanking them, telling them that Mother Emanuel has had a profound effect on many, many people everywhere.
My tears continued throughout Pastor Manning’s stirring sermon. The energy of his words was awesome. Listening to him, it felt as if the cares and concerns of the world were drained away and replaced with hope. I tell you, if I lived in Charleston, I would be there every week!
Sadly, we couldn't linger after the service but had to head out to the airport to make our flight. I hope I can go back someday. I would encourage everyone to attend a service at Mother Emanuel if you are ever in Charleston. Go! It is a pilgrimage that you will never regret making. Tell the members that you left a message on their star quilt! Here is some contact information and information about upcoming Emanuel 9 commemoration events.
Thank you to everyone who contributed a message and/or donation toward the making of this quilt. Your love, sympathy, and gratitude has touched a whole community very deeply — and Ann and I thank you for the opportunity to sew it all together in friendship. I heard from Liz last night that the quilt has been archived into the church’s collection where it remain a cherished artifact, always.