New pastor seeks to bring hope to Charleston church following massacre

A new pastor has been assigned to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., where nine people were killed in a mass shooting in June. Her goal: to bring hope back to the community.

David Goldman/AP/File
Mourners stand up to applaud the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was pastor at the Emanuel AME Church and a state senator, during his funeral service on June 26, in Charleston, S.C. The Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark on Saturday was named the church's new pastor.

The historic black church in Charleston, S.C., where nine people were killed in a deadly shooting in June, now has a new pastor – one who aspires to bring hope and unity to the church and community, local news outlets report.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Deas Clark became the first female pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Saturday. The next day she delivered her first sermon, which focused on a message of hope.

“God feels our pain, hears our cries and he knows our every move,” Dr. Clark said in her sermon, according to The Post and Courier. “While the dreams, expectations, and bodies of many have been laid to rest, we must not allow nor put our hope to rest. We must believe as a family in God (and) that our best days are in front of us. We must believe that better days are coming.”

Emanuel AME – dubbed by locals as “Mother Emanuel” – is where avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof on June 17 opened fire and killed nine parishioners who were attending a Bible study session. Among the victims was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor who was also a state senator.

Mr. Pinckney’s death – and the violence surrounding it – was a blow to the historic church, which has long stood as a symbol of the black community’s struggle for equal rights in Charleston.

“The black church is also a symbol of the civil rights struggle that was birthed in the 1950s,” said Randal Jelks, professor of African-American studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and an expert in the intersection of race and religion, to The Christian Science Monitor following the shootings. “The centers of the black freedom struggle were always black churches, so this attack reminds people of those past struggles.”

The Rev. Dr. Norvel Goff, who is now running for bishop, was interim pastor until Clark’s assignment.

Clark was pastor at Mount Pisgah AME church in Sumter, S.C., and has become the first woman in a number of posts, including president of the Ministerial Alliance for the Charleston area and chair of the Board of Examiners in South Carolina, according to her page on the Mount Pisgah website.

“We welcome her back to Charleston as she, her husband and family wrap their arms around their new church family to nurture them as they move forward as a relevant witness to Christ in the city of Charleston and to the world,” said the Rev. Kylon Middleton, a close friend to Pinckney and his family, to the Post and Courier.

Following Clark’s sermon on Sunday, longtime parishioners expressed delight at her message – and relief at having a permanent pastor at last.  

“Thank the Lord, God has sent us a woman after God’s own heart,” one woman told the paper.

Another applauded the sermon, calling it “excellent and to the point. It almost alluded to some of the things Martin Luther King said, in my opinion; hope and justice,” he said.

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