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Indy church leaders mourn victims of Charleston massacre

June 18, 2015 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

There were tears Thursday night at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, where many in various Indianapolis religious communities gathered to remember the nine victims of a fatal church shooting a day earlier in Charleston, S.C.

But there was also joy. There was hope. And as the nearly 100 participants in the service rose to their feet to clap and sing, they were defiant.

"In the midst of tragedy and against all odds," said the Rev. Paul Barrett, of Oasis of Hope Baptist Church, "we're standing up for righteousness, for justice, for love."

The response from the crowd was clear: "Yes sir." "Amen." "Hallelujah."

Prominent leaders in the Indiana AME community — the same predominantly black religious organization of which the historic church in Charleston was a member — say they are calling for solidarity as they mourn the churchgoers who were killed when a gunman walked into a Bible service, sat with the group for an hour and then opened fire.

"The Central Indiana African Methodist Episcopal Church Ministerial Alliance is, in our grief, hurt, sadness and loss, in solidarity with all impacted concerning this horrendous crime," Dr. Michael C. Carson said in a statement. Carson, the president of that alliance, is also the pastor of Coppin Chapel AME Church in Indianapolis.

"We are sure that no matter what hate crime or act of terror is done against a church and her members, the Gospel still rings true concerning the church," he said.

According to the World Council of Churches, there are more than 2.5 million members of AME. The church that came under attack in Charleston traces its roots to 1816. Indianapolis is home to several AME churches, including St. John.

Law enforcement officials said the killer, believed to have been armed with a handgun, allegedly shouted racial epithets at members of the Bible study group as he fired at them. The nine people who were killed included pastor Clementa Pinckney, who also was a South Carolina state senator, according to the Associated Press. Three people survived the shooting, police said.

The Rev. Anne Henning Byfield, who presides over 24 AME churches in Indiana, said she had known Pinckney for several years.

"He was a gentle man. He was a great guy," Henning Byfield said. "Excellent husband and father of his children."

Religious leaders from many backgrounds came to Thursday's service in Indianapolis, including Keith Kriesel, the pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Kriesel said he believes communities need to be part of what he called a "racial reconciliation."

"Racism is systemic. What happened in Charleston symbolizes that," Kriesel said. "It's rooted in our system itself."

Kathy Weir, 55, took her two grandchildren to Thursday's service to pray for the victims. She said she was nearly speechless when she heard of the slayings.

"Wow. The only thing you can say is wow," she said. "In a church? What is the world coming to?"

Authorities on Thursday arrested Dylann Storm Roof, 21, as a suspect in connection with the crime. He was taken into custody after being stopped in Shelby, N.C., about 245 miles northwest of Charleston.

A Facebook page for a Dylann Roof features a photo of Roof wearing a jacket with patches of the racist-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia.

The slayings come as Indianapolis is preparing to host two prominent AME conferences next month, the Women's Missionary Society and Young People and Children's Division Quadrennial conferences, which begin July 12. Henning Byfield said the community likely will hold some type of service for the shooting victims at that time.

"We are just grieved. We are in shock," she said. "We have churches all over the world, but we are still very much connected."