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In A Time Of Grief And Recovery, A Sunday Sermon Foretold


One of the hardest parts of the grief process is learning to move on. It can feel like you're betraying the loved one you've lost. People across South Carolina are facing that struggle just over two weeks after the murders of nine people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. In Bluffton, at the southern tip of the state, the congregation at the Campbell Chapel AME Church has been fortunate to have Pastor John Black guide them through the process. I spoke with him yesterday.

JOHN BLACK: Grief is similar to the ocean waves. We have good days and bad days, but we are moving on. Rev. Pinckney was a previous pastor of this congregation, and I think the funeral service for all of the nine, but especially for Rev. Pinckney, was extremely helpful. And having the president there really brought comfort to us, and his willingness to go the extra mile and even sing - that was impressive. So we're moving on, but there are good days and bad days, as you would expect in grief.

RATH: And what have you had to do to reassure your congregation that they're - that they're safe at church?

BLACK: Oh, that's a biggie. We are revisiting our security system. We have a wonderful system in place, but we had to upgrade that, primarily for those members who are in the building when there's not a worship service and when there's just two or three people in the building. We needed to improve our security in that area.

But we've done quite a bit. We've spent more money than I anticipating spending this time of the year. I joked - I said we could have bought a little car for what we put into our new security system. But we are now aware of the dangers that are our there, and we're prepared. We're going to begin some wonderful training that our denomination calls safe sanctuary. And we're looking forward to that training, which will equip every member to be alert and to be able to respond if there's danger.

RATH: And what about you, personally? Have - has this prompted you to change your habits or even your approach to what you do?

BLACK: Well, it has in the sense of how I think of ministry. Prior to this time, I had a false sense of security, and now I realize that I must be a little more vigilant in preparing and providing for my congregation a safe sanctuary. And even my parking space has changed. My staff wants me to park in a more secure place and has given me even a more secure entrance in and out of the sanctuary, since it's not unusual for me to frequent the building late at night or early in the morning.

RATH: I have to imagine that's difficult, because I know that, you know, the ethos is you obviously want to be open and welcoming as possible, but then you have to think about your security at the same time.

BLACK: Absolutely. And we will always be open to outsiders and visitors. One of the wonderful liturgies of our church was developed right after this event, and it is entitled our doors are opened. We're going to keep them open, and we're going to continue to reach out a hand toward the community, but we're also going to have a watchful eye.

RATH: Pastor Black, I'm curious about your sermon this weekend. What are you planning to say to your congregation? What do you need to say to them?

BLACK: Well, I think we're at the point now of moving forward, so I'm going to start a sermon series on Sunday dealing with the symbol of the eagle. And the first sermon, of course, will be the eagle in the storm. It will be the beginning of calling us to our higher level of being, you know? We have two natures, and I want to call us to our eagle nature and not our base nature. When storms come - and they come in everyone's life - they don't define us. What defines us is how we respond to the storms. And so we're going to be eagles, and we're going to soar in this particular situation. And to the credit of the Mother Emanuel congregation, they are soaring now. They have shown love in the midst of this very hateful and evil situation.

RATH: John Black is the pastor at Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton, S.C. Pastor Black, thank you very much. It was great speaking with you.

BLACK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.