At about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, Senior Bishop John R. Bryant received news of a tragic shooting that would send shock waves through the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Nine people were shot dead during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor and a state senator, was among the victims.
As word of the shooting spread, Bryant, who is the senior bishop for the national AME Church, said prayers and condolences poured into his inbox.
"We’re hoping and believing by faith that their lives wouldn’t have been in vain," he told The Huffington Post. "Out of of this, we’re hoping that the conscience of the nation would be pricked to know that we as a people collectively have to do something to curb the violence."
"We are spending a lot of money after the fact building bigger and better prisons," Bryant added, "but we’re going to have to do more in spending money to develop the lives of good people. And that’s what we’re hoping will come out of this. That people will see just how senseless this was and that lives like these must be preserved because they are the core of the country. They present the future and the best of the country.”
In Charleston and around the country, faith leaders on Thursday confronted the task of helping their communities make sense of and heal from the tragedy.
Here are some of those leaders' reflections and prayers:
Bishop Richard Franklin Norris, presiding prelate of the Seventh Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church:
“Scripture Psalm 46:1 -- ‘God is our refuge and strength ... a very present help in the time of trouble.’ The dastardly hand of unfavorable evil has unleashed its fury against the people of God while in prayer meeting and Bible study. The massive pain and loss has cause[d] all that is good and righteous to shudder with unbelief that such an act could be formulated in the mind of any human being. As Presiding Bishop of South Carolina, I have called the African Methodist Episcopal Church to prayer, reflection, and renewed restoration. Let us uphold the bereaved families in prayer. Be steadfast, unmovable and faithful.”
Ambassador Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom:
“My prayers go out to the Emmanuel AME church, and my many brothers, sisters and colleagues in our AME family, and all the families and loved ones of those who were killed in this tragedy. Such a heinous act is purely evil. This premeditated murder and the events we've seen and experienced in recent months set race relations back tremendously. Good men and women must continue to fight for what is right, ever cognizant that evil is always present. America calls our transformational leaders and for all who know the power of prayer, to ‘pray without ceasing.’"
Elder James Johnson, president of Charleston’s chapter of the National Action Network:
“It’s going to be hard to overcome this ... We have to do better than this as a nation. We have to come together and heal this land.”
Rev. Jacqueline Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church:
“A historic black church opens the door to a white man in the welcoming spirit of love, and now they’re dead. We don’t want that -- we want more love, more solidarity.
Many of our colleagues knew Rev. Pickney -- a lovely gentle person who was doing all the right things … The way we’re going to heal the world is together. We’re going to pray at noon everywhere we are, and we’re working with local people in Charleston to follow their lead. Many of us are going to go in a wave of love in these next days to take our support [to Charleston]. We will pray with the grieving, love fiercefully and wrap our arms around them. Even in the midst of this sorrow and tragedy, God is present.”
Rev. Dr. Deborah Blanks, ordained AME elder and associate dean of religious life at Princeton University:
"No one knows what was in the mind of the shooter, but only a seething calculating hatred drives someone to kill innocent people attending a weekly Bible Study. Unfortunately, the incendiary rhetoric and pervasive acts of violence in the society fan the flames for this kind of attack. The tenuous realities of race in America and the reprehensible manifestation of racism must be addressed. No longer can our country pretend the numerous and almost weekly hateful incidents are isolated. The madness literally choking the life out of the heart of America must cease and desist. Race relations in America must be shouldered by every committed citizen of every race working for the good all of people. I pray we recognize the humanity within others like us and different from us and honor that humanity actively seeking to be at peace -- because we are more alike than different."
Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor at Potter's House:
"The fact the freedoms promised in the First Amendment of the Constitution could be shattered by an assailant’s bullets in the midst of a Wednesday night bible study is truly tragic ... In the book of Jeremiah, the sixth chapter and the 14th verse, there is an apropos scripture that says: 'They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, 'Peace, peace,' But there is no peace."
"We must address the brokenness and the devastation of this community before we can begin to pray for peace. This tragedy was fermented within a segment of the community that birthed and informed the mindset of Dylann Roof and others like him. I would begin by praying for true, non-superficial healing of the hearts of the people."
United Church of Christ:
"As the body of Christ, we weep in pain and prayer with you in the aftermath of this horrible act of violence. Our thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives and those who were injured. Each loss is close to us."
"Mass killings such as these are heart-rending under any circumstances. They are made even more tragic when they happen within the walls and safety of sacred space. The heart of our nation must break wide open to feel the pain of our divisions. The body of our nation must turn itself inside out to expose the sickness of our collective culture. The soul of our nation must cry out in agony and lamentation at this time. We appeal to the United Church of Christ family and the entire nation to pray without ceasing for justice and peace to prevail."
Archbishop Joseph Edward Kurtz, president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
“Our hearts go out to the terrible tragedy that occurred in Charleston, South Carolina, to the families and all those who are affected.”
Supporters on social media also used the hashtag #IamAME to show their solidarity with the church.
This story has been updated.