The Rev. William Hale sobbed as he read the names of the nine victims who were gunned down Wednesday night at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
Hale, pastor of Historic Saint Paul AME Church in downtown Lexington, led a community prayer vigil along with thousands of other churches nationwide Thursday night to remember and pray for the victims and their families.
"A sister AME congregation is hurting, and they're hurting from a great, devastating and horrific and sudden act," he said. "So we find ourselves compelled, at least spiritually, to try to share some of that concern. ... Prayer is what we feel compelled to be called into during times of great crisis."
According to the Associated Press, Dylann Storm Roof, 21, a native of Lexington, S.C., sat with members of Emanuel AME church before shooting and killing nine people, including the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Roof was arrested hours later in North Carolina.
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Meanwhile, about 70 people entered the Historic Saint Paul AME Church sanctuary to sit on benches covered with red cushions. Several clergy members prayed for the victims, Roof, Charleston, Lexington and the nation. Prayers were punctuated with moans, tears and shouts of "Amen!" Hale asked the gathering to stand and sing We Are Often Tossed and Driven.
State Sen. Reginald Thomas and Glenn Brown, Lexington's deputy chief administrative officer, attended the event.
The Rev. Kenneth J. Goplin, pastor of Quinn Chapel AME Church in Lexington, who attended the vigil at Saint Paul, said he knew Pinckney and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, through their work with AME. He remembered them both as amazing leaders and dedicated men who wanted to serve. Goplin said he was still trying to comprehend the shooting. He said, from his understanding, that Pinckney tried to plead with the gunman to stop as he reloaded.
"Fathers of small children are gone, mothers of small children are gone," he said. "Tragically, they went to church to study the Bible, and now they're dead, because they allowed a stranger to come into the worship experience, which is one of the hallmarks of Christianity. ... It's a devastating thing."
A community prayer vigil was held at Quinn Chapel at noon Thursday.
Hale and Goplin said they both understand the fear that many have expressed via social media about not having a safe place to worship.
"Fear has no place in church," Hale said.
Goplin said spiritual work is needed now more than ever.
"I am encouraged by the fact that there are persons that take the work seriously," he said, "but there's still work to be done when a 21-year-old man can harbor this type of a hatred and sit in a Bible study for an hour ..."
Doris Coffey, a member of St. Paul who led a prayer at the service, said the first thing that people can do to solve some of the world's problems is to "love."
"That's our biggest problem," she said. "We don't love each other. Because if we did love each other, we wouldn't do all things bad things to each other. Love is No. 1."