OGDEN — At age 87, Susie Jackson had lived through the era of Jim Crow laws, the civil rights struggle and "through all of the mess racism has caused in this country," an Ogden minister observed during a prayer service Friday to honor the nine victims of a mass slaying in Charleston, South Carolina.
"She was felled by hatred, racism and terrorism" in her own church, said the Rev. Gage Church of Ogden's Congregational United Church of Christ.
The Rev. Church was among clergy from several Ogden area churches who joined in a prayer service at Embry Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the aftermath of the mass shooting.
Prayers were offered in honor of the six women and three men who were gunned down while attending a weekly Bible study and prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night.
Clergy also prayed for the victims' families and for peace and justice in a broken world.
"We are angry and anguished, and then we are comforted because we know that in that room, she was not alone," the Rev. Church prayed.
"The other victims were not alone. You were there. You were holding them in your loving arms."
Prayers were offered on behalf of each of the victims, who include Jackson, the Rev. and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; and the Revs. DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74.
The Rev. Monica Hall of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Ogden prayed for peace and comfort for Lance's family, explaining that she had attended seminary in Austin, Texas, with Lance's daughter, the Rev. Sharon Risher.
Risher is a trauma chaplain at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, the hospital where President John F. Kennedy was taken when he was fatally wounded by an assassin on Nov. 22, 1963.
While clergy are often called upon to pray for people for all sorts of reasons, "this prayer was especially personal," Hall said.
In offering a prayer for Thompson, the Rev. Michelle Dockery Boyer of Ogden's New Zion Baptist Church said she "was broke up and a little broken-hearted."
She urged the other clergy and about 40 people in attendance to come together as they worked through their grief and their response to the senseless violence in a place of sanctuary and worship.
"We can make it as long as we stick together. We can still come together. We can make it, and we don't have to be afraid to come to worship," she said.
The Rev. Brandee Jasmine Mimitzraiem, pastor of Embry Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, said clergy from as far away as Pocatello, Idaho, had gathered at the Ogden church Friday.
The Rev. Mimitzraiem has served the Ogden church since January and said she was heartened how the community came together in the aftermath of the shooting.
"It means a lot because, to me, it shows we really are a community and that we're really willing to come out and be the beloved community that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about and to be the kingdom of God that Jesus talked about. It shouldn't take crises, but I'm glad to see in those times, the entire faith community is willing to come out and show support."
During tragedy, the role of churches "is to do more than just provide comfort and be a receptacle for the grief and sorrow. The church universal should be at the forefront of making the change that needs to happen. That's what Emanuel AME was. It was on the forefront of working for justice and working for change. I think that's what the church needs to do, follow in its footsteps," the Rev. Mimitzraiem said.
Although it's been more than 50 years since the passage of civil rights legislation and landmark court decisions that ended segregation, racism is still a "very real problem" in America, she said.
"They said then in the '50s, '60s and '70s, you can change the laws, but you can't change people's hearts. That was a very real blowback and reaction to the Supreme Court decisions. 'You can legislate us to be integrated in the schools, but you can't make me love a black person.' I think what we're seeing in this act (is) the real fruition of that," the Rev. Mimitzraiem said.
While public policy changed, the Rev. Mimitzraiem said churches across the country failed to do the work of preaching "love each other and moving forward. I think that's where we are now."
The accused shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, "is too young to be that hateful. It's a symptom of all the ways the church has failed and society has failed the last 40 years. … We need to deal with the individual people. We need to deal with hearts. We never got there," she said.
What may be more disturbing is that it is likely that Roof was not alone as he developed racist tendencies, the Rev. Mimitzraiem said.
"The reality is, there are very few classrooms of one student. Who else was sitting there with him learning this? And who is the teacher? How far-reaching is this? It's not to say we need to live in fear of the next one. It's about being honest with ourselves. This is not an isolated problem."