The Work of Forgiveness Is Hard
One of the gifts of my life is to be among the Church Women United as Chaplain. We represent a number of religious denominations and are united in our diversity through serving others, especially women and children. We gather in prayer and community as exemplified through the celebration of the 100th Anniversary celebration of Church Women United in May. My world of ministry came together as three students who are part of the Downtowners Campus Ministry have received the Young Church Women United award for their giving to those in need.
On this last June 17th, at the CWU Board meeting at the Centenary United Methodist Church, I led our prayer and reflection with Acts 10 where Peter said to Cornelius who went down on his knees before Peter: “Get up, Cornelius, I am only human.” The women were filled with amazing grace in their reflections and sharing of their being only human—challenged with loving and forgiving. In the midst of the conversation, one member remarked that this community of women was as much Church to her as her denomination. Love and forgiveness was the sharing of the afternoon. That night—only a few hours later—a deranged young man murdered 9 members of Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, during Bible Study. He said later that they were so kind to him he almost changed his mind. The reaction of the members of the Church, as reported by the major news networks, was expressed in their love and forgiveness for the murderer. His name is Dylan Roof. “I am angry, but I love and forgive him,” said a woman whose loved one was murdered.
I was moved deeply by the Church members’ response and wanted to be among these members of Mother Emmanuel. In August my husband and I flew to Charleston. We spent close to two hours with a member of the Congregation—Willie. It was a prayer walk with a man who would have been murdered with the other victims, but left the church that night because he had worked all day and was hungry and needed to get something to eat. He had helped the woman responsible for the Bible Study that night to prepare Mark 4. It was her first time. She had never prepared a Bible Study before.
Being among the people of that Church that August day was an experience of being surrounded by love and forgiveness. Yes, they admitted, they felt anger. But love and forgiveness was their strongest feeling and prayer. I was asked to pray at the door where the murderer entered and walked out from. I prayed the Psalm 121:8: “May the Lord guard your coming in and your going out both now and forever.” I struggled to pray for the murderer and name him by name. I asked God to do that for me in my weakness. But my strength came through those who surrounded me. That day I took with me the loving and forgiving spirit of the Church Women United.