His voice rising in crescendo, Pastor Tyrone Hicks on Sunday led St. Andrews AME Church near Sacramento’s Southside Park in a fervent call for forgiveness, faith and love as the antidote to the evil that took nine lives Wednesday at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.
“We feel pain, grief and confusion, and some of us are in fear, but God has given us a road map, not only as African Americans but as a people, as a whole, how we move forward,” Hicks said from the pulpit of the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church west of the Mississippi. “We know God feels our pain, but his spirit moves us and revives us. ... When there is violence throughout the land, we will let our light shine in the darkened world.”
The church is built on the three interlocking circles of faith, hope and love, and “the greatest of these is love,” Hicks told some 200 congregants, including guests from churches in Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Elk Grove and Davis who came to show solidarity across race and distance. “We will not break. We will not bend. We will not bow to the evils of this world. We will conquer evil and hatred with love.”
As Hicks shared a litany that Bishop Adam J. Richardson sent to hundreds of AME congregations across America, the congregation responded after each stanza: “O God, the doors of the church are still open!”
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The nine victims “had names and families, lives, careers,” Hicks read. “They were colleagues, friends and kin: the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pickney, 41; the Rev. Daniel “Super” Simmons, 74; the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; brother Tywanza Sanders, 26; sister DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; sister Cynthia Hurd, 54; sister Myra Thompson, 59; sister Ethel Lance, 70; and sister Sue Jackson, 87.
“Then pure evil showed up at Bible study and turned their lives to past tense and our lives to turmoil. … The evil one wanted a race war. Instead there came an outpouring of love, sympathy and tears from white people and people of every race,” Hicks declared. “With shock and anger still wafting in the air, family members amazingly spoke words of forgiveness, and the community sang together and spoke of hope. ... We affirm your word that ‘perfect love casts out fear’” (1 John 4:18).
Hicks said that while anger is natural, “the Lord declares vengeance is his ... every heart should be sorrowful, but we must also love our neighbor as ourselves.”
After centuries of slavery, “slavery was washed away,” Hicks thundered. “I declare that for the Emanuel Nine there is a purpose – all cultures now come together and say, ‘No more!’ No matter what evil is out there, we stand together, lock arms tight, we will overcome and we have overcome!”
Hymns and scripture buttressed the service. The St. Andrews choir set the tone with “Fix It Jesus,” asking that when a person’s heart is filled with sorrow or their body’s wracked with pain, “I’m counting on you, Lord. ... Fix it, Jesus, like you said you would.”
Hicks turned to Psalm 37 for its message of justice: “Do not fret because of those who are evil ... for like the grass they will soon wither ... like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good ... and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
The church’s collection baskets filled with donations to help pay for funerals in Charleston.
A white family from Davis, Michael and Karen Fee and their children Catie, 13, and Declan, 10, walked out revived after the service.
“We were horrified by what happened in Charleston but incredibly moved by those families’ ability to show forgiveness,” Michael Fee said. “As a society, we don’t value forgiveness; we value old-West justice and vengeance, and to see them say, ‘I forgive you,’ is as powerful as anything I’ve ever witnessed.”
Karen Fee added she was inspired by the “warm welcome and love we felt from this community.” And Catie admitted she was a little nervous entering the church, but “it’s really cool all these people rallying together. I enjoyed it.”
Myrtis Tyler, a longtime congregant, thanked the Fees for coming. “Rev. Hicks really hit the nail on the head,” she said. “As a black person, we’ve had to learn to forget, forgive, carry on and be in God’s sight. I’m 70 years old, and it’s still a struggle.”