Even in a country where mass shootings have become a fact of life, it was nearly impossible for most Americans to make sense of a gunman walking into Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdering 11 worshipers in cold blood. But for the congregants at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, where a lone gunman murdered nine people in 2015, the synagogue shooting wasn’t inconceivable. It was a bad memory repeating itself.
When Eric Manning, pastor of the historic South Carolina church, heard about the synagogue shooting, he prepared himself for what he knew would happen next.
“I began to pray and wait. The waiting aspect was because — you begin to lose count — but this was the third, I want to say, shooting that took place in a church,” Manning said. “And what traditionally happens is within two to three hours my phone begins to ring.”
Manning says he gets calls from reporters and concerned congregants looking to him for answers that he doesn’t always have. When Manning took over the ministry of Mother Emanuel AME, it was only six months after the attack on one of the oldest black churches in America.
“I had to understand where the family, where the community, where the church members were, and where we still are," Manning told VICE News. "Trauma has a way of never leaving you. It sticks with you.”
Early in the midst of that trauma, just weeks after the Charleston massacre, the congregants of Mother Emanuel and relatives of the victims stunned the nation again when they stood up one by one in court to forgive the gunman, 20-year-old Dylann Roof.
“What the families did here is they extended God’s grace,” Manning said. “The same grace that they have received, they extended. And when you extend God’s grace to someone else who doesn’t deserve it, it’s a very beautiful thing. Forgiveness does not excuse the behavior, does not give someone a get-out-of-jail free card, but what you are saying is, ‘I will no longer allow you to have control or dominion over my feelings.’”
Manning said healing takes time.
“I would share with those within the synagogue in Pittsburgh to be patient, to not rush the process," he said. "Let God do what he is going to do. I understand from a faith tradition it’s a little different from a Jewish perspective versus a Christian perspective but it’s still in Psalm 46:10, ‘Just be still and know that I am God. Be still and know. And then just be still.”
This segment originally aired Oct. 29, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.