Wednesday night church services are the best. There’s an easy camaraderie as people show up in rumpled work clothes, looking a little weary but glad to be there. It’s a break from normal life, a chance to relax and talk and share with one another.
I think about the people in Charleston. Nine people. They came to the Emanuel AME church on Wednesday night like so many do. They came because they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something good, something healing. They came with money troubles, with family issues on their minds, with someone they were praying for – the Big Prayers, the important ones. They came with hurts and joys and ideas of how to help each other.
They came to share in the common ritual of church people everywhere on Wednesday nights.
Someone came early and set up the room. Someone showed up right after that and they had a few quiet moments of conversation before the others arrived. Someone came in late. Someone forgot their Bible and had to share with someone else.
An unusual guest came that night and was greeted lovingly, warmly, like all guests. They were black and he was white. He was younger than all of them.
They wanted to show him who they were, as Christians, as believers, as people on a path of caring for the world. They wanted to show a young white man that they accepted him as their own.
The rest, I don’t want to think about. I already know too much about what the guest brought with him. How he had chosen to roll around in filth and call it clean. How he came to believe that wrong was right and hatred was love.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously commented that the most racially segregated places in the country were churches on Sunday. That remains the same to this day. And the one time this young white man set foot into a black church was to commit a massacre.
I have questions. At church we say we love fellowship. But what do we, my white friends, have to do to develop true fellowship, true care, true acceptance? I’m working on rooting out my racism. I’ll admit that it isn’t pretty to confront, but I’m not going to pretend I “don’t see color” or that it’s racism to acknowledge that race exists. I’m going to keep working. Maybe someday I’ll get it mostly right.