The Rev. Eric Manning, pastor of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

The Rev. Eric Manning, pastor of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

In the wake of the shooting massacre at a Texas church, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning has visited members of his own congregation — Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church — to see how they are coping with rekindled memories and ongoing grief.

Manning, who became pastor of the Charleston, S.C., church about a year after nine people were killed by a gunman during a Bible study by a white supremacist, has picked up the phone this year to call a Tennessee church and a Canadian mosque that suffered their own attacks. But he hopes to offer a “ministry of presence” by visiting members of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, where a gunman killed 25 on Sunday (Nov. 5).

He talked to RNS about how things have changed — new security and a new counseling center – for his church members and how they’ve stayed the same — the church doors remain open to members and visitors.

The interview was edited for length and clarity.

How did you learn about the shootings at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, and what was your first reaction?

We were watching television in the afternoon and saw breaking news that something had taken place in Texas at a church. We began to pray for the congregation there because we understand what it means to have evil show up in the church and commit a heinous act.

Is Mother Emanuel AME planning to reach out to that congregation in any way?

Yes, we plan on trying to get out there either next week or the following week, just to show our support and aid in anything that we can possibly do with and for them. The only thing that I can really guarantee is just bringing a ministry of presence to be with them to show solidarity and that they are not alone. One thing that we have learned is that when trauma happens sometimes those who have gone through it are able to provide a little bit more of an encouragement.

The situations seem to be both similar and different as far as what has unfortunately happened to your two churches: People were killed when they were coming together to pray and worship but the perpetrators seem to have had different motives. Does that matter at all as you reach out to this church?

That really does not matter. Though the motives may be different the result is the same: You have now two congregations who have gone through a tremendous amount of hatred and evil within their sacred spaces.

How are the members of your church coping with this news, which could be bringing back very, very difficult memories?

It is, of course, bringing up memories and exposing old wounds that we thought may have been healed throughout the process of time. It’s thrust several members back into that June 17, 2015, time when everything was kind of just moving very rapidly and having a lot of people experience the sheer raw emotions of having their church violated and having their ministerial staff and loved ones murdered within the sacred walls of the church.

How has your church offered counseling to them?

Mother Emanuel is blessed to have a partnership with MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina) in Charleston. And we have an Empowerment Center that’s staffed by clinicians from MUSC and they are able to come and to receive any type of help that they may need from a therapeutic or clinical perspective.

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SOURCE: Adelle M. Banks 
Religion News Service