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Show of solidarity

Portland AME church vigil honors Charleston shooting victims


TRIBUNE PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - Parishioners stand up and feel the spirit during a hymn sung by the 10-person choir, accompanied by a drum set, a piano and an organ at Bethel AME.On Sunday, at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Portland, the Rev. Terry McCray Hill could be heard proclaiming, “The doors of the church are still open” — an announcement made at nearly every service.

“It was regularly spoken at Emanuel Church of Charleston, known to us as the ‘Mother’ of African Methodism in the Deep South,” said McCray Hill, who’s been with Bethel AME since last fall and had spent time in Charleston, S.C., on sabbatical. “As members of the AME family, we feel a connection ... even on Father’s Day, and today our proud connection is more keenly felt.”

Bethel AME, at 5828 N.E. Eighth Ave., is Portland’s only sister church to Emanuel AME in Charleston, where nine people were shot to death last week.

Here in Portland, Bethel was the only church in the city to hold a vigil in solidarity, which occurred last Thursday and welcomed nearly 300 attendees from multiple parishes, congregations and faiths, including Jewish and Protestant.

“It should be attention-getting and be used as a dialogue,” said McCray Hill of the tragic event. “It’s a time for healing, a time for people to be serious about the damage weapons in a hand can do and review with people of all ages the nature of destruction.”

McCray Hill said Portland as a community should take the opportunity to “embrace this, talking meaningfully about the community, and provide workshops about protection and unity.”

Long Portland history

Bethel AME has been a presence in Portland for 125 years, but had to move twice “because of eminent domain” and “increasing property value,” according to McCray Hill. Formerly, the church had been located where Memorial Coliseum stands today.

Nash Mohad, a Bethel AME parishioner for four and a half years, lived in Los Angeles for 11 years before returning to Portland for work. According to Mohad, the three blocks surrounding Bethel AME only have four African-American households now.

“When I come back to Portland, this doesn’t feel like home anymore,” Mohad said. “I don’t have the words to express the feelings.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - Nash Mohad contemplates what the Charleston, S.C., tragedy means for Portland and the Bethel AME congregation.Mohad thinks humans have a morbid fascination for death that brings us together more than any regular day, which is the reverse of how we should truly appreciate each other.

“The boy is suffering from a 400-year-old disease. ... We have convinced ourselves we have nuked the disease,” Mohad said. “That was a disease of society. We thought we killed it, but this is proof it’s not dead.”

Remembering Charleston

On Sunday, the Bethel AME parish gathered at 11 a.m. for a two-hour service that commemorated the Charleston Nine. Ten choir members, a drummer, a pianist and an organist sang and played praises.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JULES ROGERS - A nun sets up roses and 10 candles to be lit during Sundays service in honor of the Charleston Nine.McCray Hill lit nine candles for the tragedy’s victims: the Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, affectionately called Rev. Clem; Rev. Daniel “Super” Simmons who had put his name in for bishop at one time; Rev. Sharonda Coleman- Singleton, a high school track coach; Brother Tywanza Sanders, a recent Allen University graduate; Sister DePayne Middleton Doctor; Sister Cynthia Hurd; Sister Myra Thompson; Sister Ethel Lance; and Sister Susie Jackson. A 10th candle was lit representing all victims of racism.

McCray Hill spoke in her sermon about how when her father used to be on his way home from work, he’d call the house and tell her mother he’d see her when he got there. At his funeral, her mother repeated it back to him — about Heaven.

“I just want to say to the Charleston Nine, I’ll see you when I get there!” McCray Hill said. The congregation spilled out of the pews, holding hands and swaying together, led by the choir in singing: “black and white together, today.”

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