Conference addresses Charleston tragedy

Published 4:00 am Friday, June 26, 2015

For the third year in a row the African Methodist Episcopal Church for District 9 hosted its annual conference at Troy University and as the conference came to a close Thursday, topics of discussion shifted to Charleston, S.C., and the recent tragedy the state faced.

St. Paul A.M.E. pastor Elijah Shafah said the church had turned its eyes and discussions to Charleston after nine people were shot and killed in Emmanuel A.M.E. Church after Dylan Roof opened fire in the church’s weekly Bible study. Shafah said that the tragedy affected the A.M.E. denomination as a whole.

“The theory of the A.M.E. church is that this is connectional,” Shafah said. “You can be in Charleston, you can be in Troy, you can be in New York, but once you walk into an A.M.E. church and you know it’s an A.M.E church, you’re connected. We have a certain manner to worship. This affected all of us.”

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Shafah said that the church had a right to be angry at Roof, but like many Christians, the A.M.E. church is choosing love rather than hate.

“This was an opportunity as tragic as it was to be come more vigilant and more vocal,” Shafah said. “Even though we have the right to be angry and a right to show our disgust and outrage, we understand we are Christians and because we are Christians we still show love. We are willing to forgive a person who would commit such a heinous crime.”

Shafah said the congregation is still in shock over the tragedy, but in using love to deal with the situation the church is focused on moving forward.

“We’re still in shock,” Shafah said. “We’re still deeply, deeply wounded but the realty is that it happened. ‘What now?’ is the question. We can’t dwell on what has happened. We’re focused on what needs to happen now.”

Shafah said the weeklong conference’s focus hadn’t been on Charleston as a whole, but instead pushed members of the church to strengthen their bond and relationship with God and with the voting box.

“The entire conference was focused on ‘I want more of Jesus,’” Shafah said. “It was a meeting of churches and members getting more of God and a closer relationship with God. Today was a little different. We actually talked about the Board of Registrars and equipping members of the A.M.E. church to register to vote.”

Shafah said conference leaders had even challenged attendees to help one person register to vote. While not a typical topic of conversation at church, Shafah said the congregation had thought it a worthy discussion because of how hard the fight had been to secure voting right for African Americans.

“Alabama is the state of origin for the Voting Rights Act for African Americans,” Shafah said. “So many African Americans in the state are not registered. People suffered, were beaten or actually lost their lives to give us the opportunity and right to vote. We don’t want to sit on that right. We want to play an active role in what happens in our community as far as governmental policies. It’s critical because we feel that voting is a spiritual as going to church. The decisions made for your community affect every aspect of life.”

Shafah also said the conference gave church leaders hope for the future. Of the approximate 1,200 attendees, Shafah said 700 university-aged students had participated in this year’s conference.

“We had so many young people, over 700 at the conference,” Shafah said. “To have so many young people to come, it was major. For these students to get the exposure to a college university campus is amazing. For some kids, it’s the first time they’ve been on campus. Bishop Davis is such a visionary, which is why they keep bringing it to Troy University. The conference is catalyst in a kid’s mind. More boys and girls now want to go to college because of seeing the campus of Troy.”

Shafah said annually the conference has done well, and this year was no different. “Its’ a wonderful conference,” Shafah said. “Every year it’s better than good.”