When I heard the news today about the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I responded as I imagine many other Christians did: I spread the news to those who did not know it, and I prayed. I grieved for a congregation whose members I have never met and will never meet, and wished that I could do something more, something material. I know I was not alone.
Whenever a tragedy like this befalls believers, I watch members in the family of Christ step up both domestically and internationally. For just a moment in the face of unimaginable hurt and pain, I am always deeply touched by the way God’s children respond to each other in a moment of crisis. Prayers come from everywhere, and donations will, too. Believers will weep for other believers, bound by the common thread of our kinship in Christ. I have no doubt I will hear stories in the coming days and weeks of unimaginable grace and forgiveness. That’s the strength of Christian unity.
At times, I forget that “the church” is more than “my church” – the local congregation full of people with whom I generally share a great deal in common. When a tragedy occurs like this, I remember that there are thousands of churches spanning the country – thousands of churches spanning the globe. God’s family lives not only in the United States but throughout the great wide earth. Chinese Christians are slowly building churches. Some Christians in the Middle East are suffering and dying. I have brothers and sisters not only in every American state and province but also in Europe, in Africa.
I pray for the congregation at Emanuel AME Church and those near and dear to them; still, I am shamed that a time of tragedy is what prompts me to pray and to remember the larger Christian family that exists beyond the borders of my community. Ephesians 6:8 implores us to “pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests,” to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” And yet I tend to neglect those prayers because I focus on my immediate environment and the needs of my own small congregation – until tragedy strikes or a headline reminds me.
My hope is that after this time of suffering and the headlines have faded, I will be able to carry this sense of myself as a member of God’s great family forward – to make the time to regularly pray for my Christian brothers and sisters all over the United States, and all over the world. To pray for them in times of sorrow and in joy, during times of abundance and times of lack.
And in the meantime, I will grieve for the members of Emanuel AME Church, and pray that God comforts those suffering and in pain.