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Pastor of Charleston church where 2015 massacre occurred comes to Pittsburgh to console

November 26, 2018

When Rev. Eric S.C. Manning became pastor at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2016, he didn’t fully understand what the 560 souls in his congregation needed from him.

About a year before, nine members of the church were killed when a gunman -- a white supremacist -- opened fire on an evening Bible study.

“The trauma that they went through required patience, required understanding, and required just love and grace,” Manning said, speaking with the Tribune-Review on Friday. “So that’s what we went to do.”

Manning knew where he needed to be this week. His church held a vigil Sunday evening to honor the 11 people killed at Tree of Light Congregation in Squirrel Hill on Oct. 27. By Thursday evening, Manning was on a flight to Pittsburgh.

He spent the daylong visit mulling around the community in what he described as “the ministry of presence” -- in other words, just being here.

“To give a hug, give a smile, give a handshake and even give Kleenexes,” Manning said. “All of those things are able to be done when you’re on the ground, when you’re present.”

He met with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, of Tree of Life Congregation, and met with first-responders to thank them for their work. He also attended the funeral of Rose Mallinger -- a youthful 97-year-old who family described as unstoppable -- the last of the 11 victims to be laid to rest this week. Services were held at the Rodef Shalom Temple in Oakland on Friday.

Manning said he read from Psalm 23 during the funeral service -- “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” -- the passage reads. It was the same psalm Rabbi Myers referenced during a vigil in Oakland at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial last Sunday.

“Well, God, I want,” Myers said during the vigil. “What I want, you can’t give me. You can’t return these beautiful souls. You can’t rewind the clock. So how do I rectify my dilemma with this psalm?”

With love, Myers said.

Manning had the same message for the people of Pittsburgh. In visiting with Myers, he described their relationship as “kindred spirits.” It was the only explanation he could offer for why they were drawn to similar words in times of profound need.

“I would just continue to urge the community to be resilient and always continue to display love, and always remember that love will conquer hate,” he said.

Since arriving at Mother Emanuel just over two years ago, Manning said he has learned to minister to each person in his congregation as an individual.

No one heals at the same pace, he said.

“Just be patient with everyone,” he said.

In a sermon delivered to those parishioners at Mother Emanuel last Sunday, Manning told the more than 100 people at the service that “words do matter.”

In his remarks during the Oakland vigil Sunday, Myers shared a similar lesson from his mother: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing.”

Addressing everyone in the room, including political leaders, Myers called on anyone listening to “stop the words of hate.”

“You don’t have to follow the ‘prone to evil’ path,” Myers said. “We can also be prone to good, if you decide to take that path.

“It starts with speech. Words of hate are unwelcome in Pittsburgh.”

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